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A. M. D. G. 

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387 BRUNSWICK AVENTTK 
TORONTO. CAN. 



COLL. CHfclSTI. REGIS 

BIB. MAJ. 
TORONTO 




BX 

4105 

ONE OF THE JESUITS! . 



I? 

ALEXIS CLEEC 



SAILOR AND MARTYR 



REV. FATHER CHARLES DANIEL, S.J. 



WITH A PREFACE BY VERY REV. THOMAS S. PRESTON, V.Q. 

te COLL CHRISTI. RESTS 

BIB. MAJ. 
JORONTO 

NEW YORK : 

D. & J. SADLIER & CO., PUBLISHEES, 

31 BARCLAY STREET. 
MONTREAL : 275 NOTRE DAME STREET. 

35093 



- /"77 

Copyright, 
D. & J. SADLIER & CO., 

1879. 







LORETT CONVN , 



THIS TRANSLATION IS DEDICATED 
TO THE MEMORY OF 

FATHER ANDREW FRANCIS MONROE, S.J. 

Grand-nephew of President Monroe, Officer in the American 
Navy, and a Convert to the Catholic Faith. 

He entered the Society of Jesus in Rome, made his novitiate in France, 
was ordained Priest in Canada, and, after spending his religious life like 
his friend Father Clerc, chiefly in the humble duties of a professor, 

iZBteti at <St, Jf rancts Xabtec s <ollege, IXfeto STorfe, 

AUGUST 2, 1871, 
AGED FORTY-SEVEN YEARS. 

A man of " a large humanity " (to use his own phrase), who made friends 
everywhere, and no enemies notwithstanding his sailor-like bluntness, 
wonderfully upright and honorable, childlike in faith, simple in piety, 
a worthy priest and an exemplary religious, he is still regretted by 
those whose privilege it was to know and appreciate him. 

J)ts soul vest in peace. 



6 Contents* 

CHAPTER VIII. 

PAGE. 

A Conversion on board the Cassini. , , , 257 

CHAPTER IX. 
Shanghai and the Jesuit Mission. 275 

CHAPTER X. 
Alexis Clerc in the Society of Jesus Saint- Acheul 319 

CHAPTER XL 
Vaugirard The School Sainte Genevieve Laval 856 

CHAPTER XII. 
Father Clerc and his Pupils 380 

CHAPTER XIII. 
Father Clerc and his old Comrades 410 

CHAPTER XIV. 

Father Clerc at Saint Vincent de Laon and in the Am 
bulance of Vaugirard His Last Vows 429 

CHAPTER XV. 

Father Clerc Prisoner and Victim for Love of Jesus 
Christ Mazas La Roquette 450 



PREFACE, 



IT is with great pleasure that we recommend to the 
Christian public this translation of Father Daniel s Life 
of Alexis Clerc. There is much in this Life which 
speaks to the great needs of our day. The bright ex 
ample of self-denial and heroic virtue cannot fail to 
move many hearts whose aspirations are for eternity. 
The prevailing disposition of the age is altogether to 
ignore God, as if his law and will had nothing to do 
with the end of human life or the happiness of man 
kind. He is driven from society, from education, from 
science, and from the counterfeit which the world dig 
nifies by the name of religion. Self is made the end in 
the way of pleasure, avarice, or ambition. Men would 
live as long as they may, and then sink into the grave 
without hope of the future, or with the denial of im 
mortality. And even where there is a certain belief in 
God, what prospect for happiness has the victim of pas 
sion who has never known the discipline of obedience ? 
Heaven is nothing to those who have placed their high 
est happiness in self- gratification. We have seen the 
fruits of unbridled passion in the hatred of God and of 
all who professed obedience to his law. The ever-liv- 



8 Preface. 

ing Church of Christ goes quietly on amid all the tu 
mults or the world and the conflicts of evil. She alono 
speaks the words of truth; she alone can heal the 
wounds of infidelity or sin. Her life is above the vio 
lence of her enemies, and in this divine life she contin 
ues the mission of her great Founder, giving good for 
evil, and gathering in the waste places of earth a har 
vest for eternity. Nothing really lives that she does 
not touch, and all she touches is radiant of immortality. 
Dark was the hour when the spirits of evil broke loose ; 
and malignant hatred of God held sway. The age of 
the martyrs returned, and patience, gentleness, pity, 
and fidelity unto death were the only answer to insati 
ate nrfalice and demoniac rage. " The Good Shepherd 
gave his life for the sheep"; so in his footsteps ever 
arise the children of his love to bear his cross and glad 
ly die at its foot. The sad days of the Commune were 
days of triumph for the Church, as the blood of martyrs 
is the glory of her crown. 

The reader of this Life will learn these and many 
truths which may quicken in his heart the love of faith 
and all its supernatural fruits. Without faith life is 
not worth living, and even in this material age sanctity 
is within our reach, and the Mother of saints has chil 
dren of whom she need not be ashamed. The strife of 
the Commune is not over, and the red hand of infideli 
ty is not yet stayed. Even in our own beloved country 
may come the hour when law and order shall sink be 
neath the violence of unbelief, when hatred of God 
shall make victims of the innocent and true. Unhappy 



Preface. 9 

France has yet to atone for many sins, and while she 
suffers, the blood of her martyrs pleads to the Sacred 
Heart for mercy. 

Father Alexis Clerc was only one of many chosen 
souls whom the illustrious Society of Jesus has given to 
the world. He has spoken by words of faith, mercy, 
and courage, by deeds of self-denial and patience, by a 
life given for the salvation of souls, and by the death 
of a martyr for Christ. With the sainted Olivaint and 
his companions before the throne of the Precious Blood 
he will intercede for his brethren, for France he loved 
so well, and for us who will seek by his example to be 
true to God and to walk in the blessed and narrow 
way of faith. It is strange that the martyrs of the 
Commune are so little known, and that the story of 
their death has produced so little visible fruit. Catho 
lics hardly realize how much they owe to these confes 
sors of the faith, while many Protestants who could not 
applaud the violence of persecution are perhaps uncon 
sciously encouraging principles which lead to the de 
nial of authority, and therefore to the reign of infi 
delity. 

The " Chamber of the Martyrs 7 at Paris, with the 
relics of their sufferings and death, is a scene which 
speaks louder than any words, and sets in open light 
the two extremes of mortal conflict, the charity divine 
which bleeds unto death, and the rage of baffled but 
still malignant passion. 

May God increase our faith and give us grace, that, 
" having so great a cloud of witnesses, we may lay 



io Preface. 

aside every weight and sin which surrounds us, and run 
with patience to the fight proposed to us, looking unto 
Jesus." 

T. S. P. 

COBPTJS CHBISTI, 1879. 



ALEXIS CLERO 

SAILOR, 
JESUIT AND HOSTAGE OF THE COMMUNE ; 

SHOT AT LA ROQUETTE, MAY 34, 1871. 



ALEXIS CLERC. 



CHAPTER I. 

ALEXIS CLERC BEFOR* HIS TWENTY-SEVENTH YEAR HIS 
ENTRANCE IN THE NAVY AND HIS FIRST CRUISE. 

ALEXIS CLEKC was born in Paris on tlie 12th of 
December, 1819, in the parish of Saint Germain 
1 Auxerrois ; the next day he was baptized in the 
parish church. 

He was in every respect a true child of Paris, 
belonging to that middle class whose role was great 
even then, but whose ambition was greater still, 
and whose political importance attained its apogee 
under the monarchy of July. His education, en 
trusted to the university at an early age, was all 
that it could be under the regime of the monopoly 
neither worse nor better than that of multitudes of 
children of the Parisian bourgeoisie, in whose 
young souls their professors daily inculcated in 
difference and doubt, who saw the priest only at 

13 



14 Alexis Clerc 

long intervals, and considered him as a functionary 
to be employed in but two or three circumstances 
of life, and after death. 

Yet withal Alexis had for mother a fervent Chris 
tian, a lady belonging to an old Lyonnaise family 
in which piety was hereditary. "A saint humble 
and meek" such is his own testimony of his 
mother at whose knees he was taught to know 
Jesus Christ, and was thus initiated into the life 
of the soul. He lost this mother when he was 
only thirteen years of age. How long did he con 
tinue faithful to her example and lessons ? Some 
months, a year perhaps at the most ; then he fell 
into the common current and became a stranger to 
all religious practices. Thirteen years were passed 
in forgetfulness of God, thirteen years which after 
wards he bitterly regretted. 

He had not been born to be an infidel ; he even 
had strong religious inclinations. " When I was 
still a very little boy at school," in later years he 
told a friend, "I heard read from a large book 
bound in calf-skin the wonderful Lives of the 
Saints. They all seemed so beautiful to me that 
I had a great desire to imitate them, and assured 
ly, to be frank, my wish to please God and to do 
great things for him was then not less real nor less 
reasonable than were the aspirations of the saints." 

How came it to pass that this holy ardor was ex 
tinguished ? Alas ! it is only too easily explained, 
and his history is that of thousands, of millions of 
children, the victims of an odious monopoly. 
" The poison of the college," he adds, " soon got 



before his Twenty-seventh Year. 15 

the better, and retained it for a long time, of my 
artlessness and my desire of sanctity." The way 
and means of this may be readily understood. 
Where was the pupil frequenting the university 
establishments, such as they were at that time I 
do not enquire what they are now, and I suppose 
them greatly improved where, I ask, was the 
pupil who would not have been abused by his 
fellow-pupils, and perhaps by his masters, if he 
had made profession of imitating ever so slightly a 
St. Stanislas or a Berchmans, or even of going to 
confession and of attending church ? The masters 
might not have concurred in such abuse officially ; 
for, however atheistic the law was, the teaching 
state could not very well proclaim itself as such. 
But the professors, the heads of public instruction, 
considered it no fault to attack in their lectures or 
in their books the Catholic Church, the clergy, the 
whole French episcopate, and many a one of them 
gained applause by celebrating the obsequies of 
Christianit} , and by writing : " How dogmas are 
exploding ! " 

After the death of his pious mother, Alexis found 
in his family no one to speak to him of God, to 
remind him of his Christian duties. Far from 
that, his father, otherwise an honorable man and 
not lacking in culture of mind nor elevation of 
character, was a philosopher of the old school, 
a Voltairean, to speak plainly an ardent patriot 
(but after a fashion that was just a little revolu 
tionary), and no detester of the songs of Beranger 
nor of the pamphlets of Paul Louis Courier. If 



1 6 Alexis Clerc 

\ve may believe a playmate of our Alexis child 
hood, one who visited the house to share his 
games and from whom there were no secrets, Mr. 
Clerc, drawn into the liberal movement of the 
times, and extremely hostile to the government of 
Charles X., did not rest a^ mere spectator during 
the events of July, 1830; and when the throne, 
undermined by the labors of many hands, fell for 
the misfortune of Prance, he congratulated him 
self upon their success, and had a right to look 
upon his own as among the victors. His business 
affairs, for he was at the head of an important 
commercial enterprise, were not improved by the 
situation; during the crisis he even met with 
severe losses, from which he never afterwards re 
covered. Yet his political convictions remained 
unchanged ; he did not spare sacrifices for what he 
deemed the good cause, and when the Siecle was 
established his name was among the first inscribed 
on the list of stockholders. From all this may be 
seen in what principles Alexis was reared and what 
maxims were taught him ; pains were taken to in 
spire him with a high sense of honor, an immense 
disinterestedness, a boundless devotion to his 
country and to the sacred cause of liberty, but 
of religion there was no question, unless perhaps 
to warn him against the encroachments of the 
priestly party. 

Did Alexis share the passions and prejudices of 
his father in religious matters ? I do not think 
so, and I did not discover that it was among the 
subjects of self-reproach when, after his conver- 



before his Twenty-seventh Year. If 

sion, he was reviewing the years of his youth. No, 
he hated neither the men nor the things of the 
Church ; indifference and disdain were all he be 
lieved he owed religion, and his philosophy, which 
was entirely negative, went no further. 

He pursued his studies successfully, partly at the 
College Henri IV., and partly in an institution 
where the teaching was after the method of Jacotot. 
" The education which we received in that house," 
one of his early companions writes us, " was the 
ideal of an education without God. It would be to 
calumniate Mr. de S to call him an enemy of reli 
gion, but it would be to ascribe to him a merit which 

O 

he did not possess to say that he was even a deist. 
I would not have believed the man possible had I 
not known him. We got along in that school as 
well as we could." 

Then follows a short sketch of the young student 
whose after career was to be so laborious and so 
filled with trials to the very end : 

"Alexis was idleness itself ; but, thanks to his 
talents, he was one of the most distinguished of 
the pupils. As to his disposition, I have never 
known a more genial nor a more amiable person. 
I do not think I ever saw him have a quarrel. He 
was on bad terms with nobody, and there were two 
or three of us who were particularly good friends 
with him." 

The first place among these intimate friends 
must be given to his brother Jules, who was not 
more than two years his senior, and who, being but 
a little further advanced in the classes, liad the 



1 8 Alexis Clerc 

same comrades and acquaintances. Their mutual 
friendship was of the most tender kind, and, later, 
religion, by making on almost the same day the 
conquest of the one and the other, drew still closer 
the bonds formed by blood and by sympathy of 
character. 

At seventeen years of age Alexis was a bachelor 
of letters. What should he determine upon next ? 
Commerce was not his forte ; having no taste for 
examining and disputing mercantile interests, he 
would have succeeded in that walk of life even 
worse than his father did. It was thought that 
manufactures would open a field vast enough to 
satisfy his longing to act, to prove himself a man. 
Mr. Clerc counted among his friends a Mr. Griollet, 
who superintended a woollen manufactory, and 
who, to parenthesize, had just bought the chateau 
of Voltaire at Ferney. Alexis was given a posi 
tion in the factory. But the affairs of his patron 
did not prosper; it became necessary to sell every 
thing, even Ferney ; and Alexis, again on his 
father s hands, ^as once more in search of a posi 
tion and less than ever decided upon the career to 
embrace. 

" It was then," says the faithful witness from 
whom we borrow these details, and who in the 
kindest possible manner placed his souvenirs at our 
disposal, " it was then that Mr. Clerc, not knowing 
what to do with a very intelligent boy who was the 
object of his deepest affections, showed me the 
honor of consulting me, although I was not more 
than a few months older than Alexis. One of my 



before his Twenty-seventh Year. 19 

relatives had lately graduated with distinction from 
the Polytechnic School. I suggested the Poly 
technic. Mr, Clerc asked me : But whom shall 
I employ to prepare Alexis? I spoke of the 
preparatory school where my cousin had been. He 
sent us, Alexis and me, to find the head of that in 
stitution. It was thus Alexis entered the estab 
lishment of Mr. de lleusse, Kue de Vaugirard, cor 
ner of the Rue Feron." * 

There the student was the same that he had 
been during the course of his classical studies ; 
this we learn from one of his fellow-students who 
followed him, after the interval of a year, to the 
Polytechnic School, and who was destined to meet 
him, thirty years later, a priest and a Jesuit pre 
paring for the supreme trials which Providence re 
served for him. We have avoided erasing from 
these lines their local coloring ; this, we are sure, 
will not offend our readers, especially if they have 
ever happened to frequent the society of the more 
or less studious youth from whose ranks is re 
cruited the large and illustrious school our hero 
proposed entering. 

" I formed his acquaintance at the Institution de 
Reusse in 1839. His good disposition, his gay and 
cheerful temperament, made him beloved by every 
body, while, at the same time, his ready compre 
hension of the x won him great respect among 
the taupins (thus in student slang are called those 



* The Institution de Reusse, which has not changed its 
name, is at present in the Rue du Cardinal Leraoine. 



2O Alexis Clerc 

Who are following a special mathematical course in 
preparation for the Polytechnic School). He was, 
moreover, very strong in literary composition. An 
aptitude for literature and mathematics are rarely 
found together. He had also a great deal of en 
thusiasm in his character, yet this did not exclude 
a great deal of good sense." 

This last touch paints him exactly, shows him 
just as we knsw him until the close of his life. 
His enthusiasm, far, from being weakened or ex 
tinguished as too often happens in proportion as 
experiences multiply was rather quickened by 
being purified through contact with the holy reali 
ties of faith and with eternal hopes. 

After a rapid preparation he was admitted into 
the Polytechnic School with a very fair grade of 
scholarship, the twenty-sixth. The same amiable 
and thoroughly French qualities which had made 
him a favorite in the boarding-school and college 
procured for him in this assemblage of young men of 
such varied origin and character a true popularity, 
which he preserved as long as he remained among 
them, and which we have found still alive in the 
remembrances of several of them. Their recollec 
tions of the charming gayety, the sprightly, active 
temperament, the useful fion-enfant character of 
" Little Clerc " are exhaustless. They were ready 
to relate to us any number of funny tricks and 
speeches, always quite inoffensive, by which he 
amused his companions. There exists at the Poly 
technic a custom, a tradition, regarding the man 
ner of welcoming newcomers and of putting their 



before his Twenty-seventh Year. 21 

good-nature to the test. It is not a new thing in 
schools, and there is much in it to be ashamed of. 
Athens, in knowledge and practice of it, preceded 
and probably surpassed Paris, where all through 
the Middle Ages the rectors of the university had 
much difficulty in protecting the new arrivals, 
whose pursss were liable to be drained by the pay 
ment of their fiejaune. What is the colle d absorp- 
tion in comparison with the bejcmne 9 I leave the 
expression without a paraphrase. Perhaps some 
day it will join lejaune in the dictionary of the 
Academy. 

Nevertheless, it must be avowed the fun often 
enough exceeds reasonable limits and turns into a 
positive vexation. It was not so when Little 
Cleic (with General Thoumas, we are assured) 
was chosen to conduct the trial. Under his man 
agement things always passed off in a way that 
was agreeable to all concerned. We have on our 
desk a specimen of the problems he proposed and 
the questions he addressed to his recruits. It is a 
droll document. In it Greek subtlety clasps 
hands with Gallic wit, not to mention the forced 
agreement of mathematical formulas that caps the 
climax. But there is not a word to offend or 
wound, and it would seem that those who passed 
through his hands were lightly tickled but not 
bruised. 

Thus by his popularity he acquired the right to 
say anything at any time, and was sure of being 
listened to. One day some ungrateful task or 
other had been finished, and it was determined to 



Alexis Clerc 

destroy all traces of it. So behold our big scholars 
heaping up in a court-yard a mountain of papers ; 
they touch a match to it, then, joining hands, 
dance around it in the most hilarious fashion. 
Suddenly Clerc detaches himself from the circle 
and approaches the burning pile. He merely 
wants to light his cigar; but they mistake his in 
tention, and the cry is started : " Clerc wishes to 
speak ! " In a moment the dance is arrested, every 
man hushes his noise and listens. Whether or no, 
Clerc has to speak, to prove that he doesn t want to. 

He entered the school in the twenty-sixth grade, 
he left it in the twenty-third, a sign that he had 
not quite gotten rid of his liking for laziness. 
That grade gave him the right to choose among 
several careers, some of them very desirable, agree 
able, and even lucrative. What was not the aston 
ishment of his companions when they learned that 
he had chosen the navy ! " A famous sailor 
he ll make," said one ; " a fellow whose only voy 
age has been upon the Seine, between Bercy and 
Charenton !" " He has the ambition to go round 
the world," added another. " Does he know what 
it means, he who has never been out of Paris in his 
life, unless to go en coucou to Versailles or Mont- 
fermeil ? " And so on with a long string of jests. 

The fact is, Alexis vocation for the sea was 
extremely sudden, and for a native of the Eue 
Bourdonnais quite extraordinary. He made his 
first trial of it, without any preparation whatever, 
by a four years cruise in the Southern seas, and by 
" the conquest of the Marquesas Islands," one of 



before his Twenty-seventh Year. 2$ 

his friends tells us. What had caused him to take 
so singular and so unexpected a resolution ? I 
strongly suspect, in the first place, that every sort 
of administrative employment was repugnant to 
him, and that he was not willing, at any price, to 
shut himself up in an office. He required air, 
sunlight, space, elbow-room. Then lie had an am 
bition, not a petty- but. a vast and lofty one an 
ambition to do something great, and to serve his 
country by placing at her disposal his abilities, and 
even, if need be, his blood and his life. It was the 
beautiful ambition of youth, which believes in 
glory and in magnanimous devotedness, the am 
bition which Virgil so nobly expressed by the lips 
of his Nisus : 

" Aut pugnam aut aliquid jamdudum invadere magnum 
Mens agitat mihi, nee placida contenta quiete est." 

In the second place, if I look for exterior causes, 
I discover one which acted, it seems to me, upon 
our Alexis. There was among the friends of the 
family an excellent woman, Madame Pages, who 
took a lively interest in him, and whose name fre 
quently appears in his letters. She had a brother, 
Commander Baligot, who was captain of a corvette 
that was about starting for the Southern seas. 
" If you would like to be a sailor," she said to the 
young man, "my brother will take you on his ship 
and I will give you your sword." " I desire no 
thing better," he replied. No sooner said than 
done ; and it may be added that when he started on 
his voyage he knew neither the object nor the du 
ration of the expedition. 



24 Alexis Clerc 

There was no time to lose. Named a midship 
man of first class on the first day of October, 1841, 
lie embarked at Brest on the Triompliante the 22d 
of the same month, and found himself, the future 
officer, more of a novice than the last of the cabin- 
bojs, knowing absolutely nothing of the manoeuvres 
or the language of shipboard. But from the com 
mencement he showed the best points of his nature; 
full of energy and resources, joining a great deal 
of decision of character to that French spirit of 
good-fellowship which never makes the man the 
loser, he gained esteem and friendship directly. 
Admirably well placed to judge him, Commander 
Baligot, writing " at sea, December 17," says : " As 
to Alexis, he is a fino and courageous young man, 
who at the very beginning of our voyage gave 
proof of his energy. I hope to find an opportunity 
of showing him how much it caused me to respect 
him." 

An opportunity soon came, but, alas ! in a way 
unexpected by that excellent man, who gave to the 
young midshipman a mark of esteem and confi 
dence usually reserved for a riper age and a longer 
experience. Mr. Baligot died at sea before reach 
ing the coasts of America, appointing Alexis his 
testamentary executor; and thus at the entrance 
of his career our hero was deprived of the counsels 
of the old officer without whom he would never 
have dreamed of being a sailor. " Commander 
Baligot," he wrote to his father (from Valparaiso, 
August 19, 1842), " was, as well as I can judge, 
much the best sailor I have yet seen. ... If he is 



before his Twenty-seventh Year. 2$ 

such a loss to the vessel, how much greater a one 
to me ! " And he adds, thereby making a revelation 
of his character, which at that period was somewhat 
inclined to presumption : "Ever since I have ar 
rived at years of discretion and long before, if 
indeed I have reached those years I have always 
judged for myself have guided myself by my own 
impressions, have willed with my own will. This 
beloved commander was so wise, so enlightened, so 
noble, that, while scarcely aware of it, I allowed 
him to will for me ; he loved me well enough to 
do it. His death leaves me without purpose, 
without object, without will. I am like one wan 
dering without a destination. I needed his strength. 
One of my opinions was a truth to me if he shared 
it. No man ever before had such power over me." 

So it was that the young man, with his proud, 
enthusiastic spirit, yielded himself unreservedly 
and without calculation of the results, happy be 
yond all expression to have found at last a man a 
character, rare thing ! 

But what is going to become of him whose voca 
tion for the sea was dependent on that one man, 
and who had lost the support which he needed 
more than anything else at the beginning of such 
a novel career. 

The elasticity which was in his nature, the in 
domitable energy of his will came to the rescue ; 
not, however, that he experienced the same joyful 
confidence as at the moment of departure. Trials 
were hard for him to bear, and he had plenty of 
them ; he felt them keenly, but was not discou- 



26 Alexis Clerc 

raged. He asked himself more than once if he 
had not taken a false step, and if it would not be 
better to turn back in time and seek another way 
of employing his talents. Meanwhile he made the 
best of his position, conquering his dislike ami all 
the other difficulties of the calling, and taking 
good care never to be downhearted. 

Such is the picture of him drawn for us by an old 
navy officer who was his companion in that long ex 
pedition. This gentleman, a few years younger than 
our hero, was, though a graduate of the Naval 
School, only a midshipman of second class, while 
Clerc, a pupil of the Polytechnic, had been without 
any hesitation appointed midshipman of first class. 
" He was greatly my superior in scientific acquire 
ments," this worthy officer tells us ; " but, on the 
other hand, my practical knowledge gained on the 
school-ship, excelled his, and, understanding per 
fectly well that if he did not ask explanations he 
would never learn the details of certain manoeuvres 
which he would be obliged to command to the sail 
ors, he begged me to give him some lessons. So 
at night when I was on duty he would come to me 
and I would post him about the ship s rigging, and 
show him how to tie knots and how to ( make fast 
in the usual ways ; I taught him the names of the 
ropes and their proper arrangements. It was thus 
that in a very short time he was well acquainted 
with all the details which he would have been -ig 
norant of for ever if he had not had the humility 
to ask questions of a friend." 

In mentioning humility the Viscount de M. 



before his Twenty-seventh Year. 27 

knew very well, and was careful to add, that the 
religion of his comrade was then in a "latent 
state." Humility, that essentially Christian virtue, 
cannot he engrafted upon an absent faith ; but the 
young sailor was preserved by his good sense from 
all foolish pride. 

This kind of merit, so rare in a beginner, was 
singularly attractive to men of experience, and ap 
peared to them a very good sign. Mr. Nielly, 
Commissioner of the Navy, wrote to Alexis father : 
" Sir : My second son, who for six months past 
has occupied the same room with your Alexis, and 
is pleased with the partnership, desires me to in 
form you that his friend was well on the 10th of 
November, 1842; that their corvette sailed the 
next day from Valparaiso for the Marquesas Islands, 
where she was to be stationed for six months in 
the harbor of Nouka-Hrva, then to return to Val 
paraiso ; and that, to conclude, the chest contain 
ing the balance of the effects of the late Mr. Bali- 
got, captain of the corvette, is on board the go 
vernment frigate Thetis in the harbor of Brest." 
Then follow some details relative to the property 
of Commander Baligot. Mr. Nielly terminates his 
letter with these words, which must have been 
very gratifying to Mr. Clerc : " There now remains 
for me only to congratulate myself upon having 
had an opportunity to address a few lines to the 
father of a sailor who, young as he is, seems to 
unite to talent and courage the wisdom which as 
sures to his friends and to himself the fruits of 
those two qualifications." 



28 Alexis Clerc 

A wisdom entirely human, we must again re 
mind the reader ; at the time he was receiving 
such praises his morals were far from being irre 
proachable, and he did not even feel the sting of 
remorse. Nevertheless, the moment of grace was 
approaching, and ere long so many natural gifts 
would be transformed into Christian virtues. 

The interior crisis to which he owed his salvation 
commenced shortly after his departure from Val 
paraiso, at the G-ambier Islands, which he visited 
on his way to the Marquesas. God there showed 
him a spectacle that made a deep impression on his 
observing mind, and caused him to reflect pro 
foundly ; it was the spectacle of a growing Christi 
anity renewing the marvels of the primitive Church 
upon the still smoking ruins of an abject and 
bloody idolatry. 

The theatre where the power of the Gospel was 
thus manifested is very small, very obscure, and 
almost ignored by the rest of the world. "We often 
hear of Tahiti, the new CytJiera, which owes to 
Captain Cook, and to other navigators as little 
scrupulous as he, a suspicious celebrity. But, 
aside from Catholics who are interested in mission 
ary labors and are kept informed by the "Annals 
of the Propagation of the Faith," who knows any 
thing more than the names, who has ever thought 
of studying in its most interesting phase the his 
tory of those little islands of volcanic origin, 
Mangareva, Taravai, Aokeua, Akamarou, which 
form the archipelago of Gambier, lost in the im 
mensity of the Pacific Ocean, about three hundred 



before his Twenty -seventh Year. 29 

leagues from Tahiti and the same distance from 
the Marquesas ? The first time that French mis 
sionaries^ some priests belonging to the Congrega 
tion of Picpus, landed on those isles at the risk of 
their lives, they found the only population to 
consist of terrible cannibals, perfectly naked, war 
ring with their neighbors for the sake of feasting 
upon the flesh and blood of the vanquished, joining, 
in a word, the appetites of ferocious beasts to the 
instincts of depraved children; and for the rest, 
an enchanting country of prodigious fertility. The 
narrow belt of land which surrounds each extinct 
crater produces abundantly and without any culti 
vation, the cocoa-tree, the banana, and the bread 
fruit, and these furnish the islanders not only with 
food and clothing, but with the timber, the roofing, 
and all the furniture of their little houses. Previ 
ous to the years 1834, 1835, all that richness of soil 
and beauty of climate was the empire of the devil ; 
the Sun of Righteousness had not yet risen upon 
those unfortunate people seated in darkness and 
in the shadow of death ; there was not a soul in all 
that archipelago who was not a slave to supersti 
tion, to anthropophagy, and to the most shameful 
lechery, and not a word of salvation had ever been 
spoken upon those inhospitable shores. Fathers 
Caret and Laval, on landing at Mangareva, the 
largest of the four islands it measures nearly three 
miles in extent saw at the first glance what sort of 
men they had to deal with, and what were the 
manners of the place. The natives gave them a 
kindly and even hearty welcome, but one which 



30 Alexis Clerc 

did not inspire them with confidence. The chief 
of a quite numerous population having towards 
sunset offered them hospitality, they accepted a 
little food, but declined sleeping in his hut, think 
ing they would be safer in the neighboring wood. 
Vain precaution ! When night came they were 
the objects of nameless solicitations, and (they 
themselves relate) proposals contrary to the holiest 
of virtues were made them. They fled, and were 
pursued unmercifully. Then they tried to hide 
themselves by crouching down among the reeds 
that grew on the shore, when fire was brought into 
requisition, and they were surrounded by a circle 
of flames, all the outlets of which were guarded so 
as to oblige them to fall into the infamous snare. 
They succeeded in saving their honor and their 
lives only through a miracle of Providence. Such 
were the islanders of Mangareva anterior to 1834. 

Very well! A few years later these same island 
ers will be fervent Christians and civilized men ; 
redoubling by their industry the fertility of a soil 
already so productive ; cultivating the arts neces 
sary to the preservation or embellishment of life ; 
welcoming the stranger with a true and helpful 
charity; practising chastity, meekness, disinterest 
edness, sincei ity, gratitude, and deriving from the 
love of Jesus Christ and his holy Mother the ideal 
and inspiration of all the virtues. 

And this was what our young sailor saw with 
his own eyes on landing at the Gambier Islands 
during the course of the year 1842. He was shown 
a church, the first construction of masonry in 



before his Twenty-seventh Year. 3 1 

Mangareva, built of enormous blocks of coral which 
rthe natives had torn from the bowels of the sea, as 
[ it were, and brought on rafts a distance of five 
leagues. He became acquainted with the former 
high-priest of the island, Matua, a species of giant, 
not long since an anthropophago, and now as gentle 
as a lamb. Matua was among the first to accept 
the good tidings, and his example determined the 
king, Maputeo, his nephew, to receive baptism. In 
a letter dated at Valparaiso, and written after his 
return there from the Marquesas Islands, Alexis 
relates to his father the strange things of which he 
had been the happy witness, and communicates to 
him without many comments the first impressions 
produced in his soul by the sight of this infant 
Christianity. I will quote a few passages from this 
letter: 

" When we left Valparaiso we knew not the ob 
ject of our voyage. We went to the Gambier 
Islands. 

" It was ten years since an English government 
vessel had touched there for a supply of water. 
The natives fell upon the lieutenant and a sailor, 
killed and ate them. They went about perfectly 
naked, and were the most ferocious and savage of 
all the inhabitants of Oceanica. Now here is 
what we saw : This group of islands consists of 
four ; we visited the principal two, Mangareva and 
Aokena. The approach to them is very difficult, 
there being a great many coral-reefs to avoid; 
and as they produce nothing for commerce but 
pearls and mother-of-pearl, few vessels frequent 



32 Alexis Clerc 

them. Eight years ago two French missionaries 
with two workmen established themselves there. 
They learned the language. By their good advice 
and conduct they gained the esteem and affection 
of the savages ; then they undertook to convert 
and civilize them. It is impossible to conceive by 
what prodigies of devotedness they attained this 
object, and to what degree. The natives are now 
all Christians ; they are honest, good, laborious, and 
very pious. 

"The high-priest who slaughtered the English 
men was one of the first converts. He is a tall, 
stout, fine-looking man, tattooed all over, who de 
scribes with much simplicity the tricks by which he 
used to work upon the credulity of his disciples. 
The king was the most reluctant to be baptized, 
but he consented at last, and all the people follow 
ed his example. 

"Now the children attend school. There are 
two schools, one for the girls and one for the boys ; 
they learn to read, write, and cipher; religion is 
taught them, and especially good principles ; Latin 
is added for the boys. 

" Cotton grows plentifully in these islands ; the 
people have learned to spin, weave, and make gar 
ments of it, and consequently they are now all 
clothed. 

"The food of all the natives of Oceanica is the* 
fruit of the bread-tree, prepared in a way that is 
perfectly detestable to a European; the mess is 
called popoi. 

"The missionaries have taught these people of 



before his Twenty-seventh Year. 33 

the Gambler Islands to prepare this fruit better, 
ard also to preserve supplies of it in the earth to 
prevent the terrible famines which a sudden tem 
pest may bring upon them. 

Finally, these good fathers have built a church, 
simple, but more beautiful than many of our coun 
try churches built it with the assistance of only 
two mechanics. The savages brought on rafts 
blocks of stone from a distance of five leagues, and 
learned from the workman how to hew, raise, and 
set them in place. The missionaries found in the 
numerous coral-reefs that ars so disastrous to navi 
gation an inexhaustible quarry of the finest lime 
stone in the world. They built of this a house for 
themselves and one for the king, and these serve 
the inhabitants as models for the construction of 
others. 

" The missionaries have not sought to obtain any 
authority in the country ; they have only reformed 
it and left it in the hands of the king. It must be 
a very genuine piety that inspires such conduct. 
Our missionaries are very different from those of 
the English. The English missionaries work for 
their own country, ours for the country they are 
in. The islands where there are English mis 
sionaries become English ; those where ours are 
form themselves into little states. 

" We spent three days in this happy region, 
among them a Sunday which was a great festival. 
The entire ship s company, officers, midshipmen, 
and men, attended Mass in uniform. The church 
was filled with a throng of people who sang in the 



34 Alexis CIcrc 

language of the country, and to an air which be 
longed to their old religion, a hymn the missionaries 
had composed for them. The harmony, simple yet 
striking, produced upon me an impression such as 
I had never experienced. . . . 

"After Mass the missionaries invited us to their 
house to breakfast with the king and the high- 
priest. A very frugal repast was offered us, but 
with such hearty kindness ! These poor people 
use shells for plates ; they had bread that day, but 
they are often reduced to the popoi. What heroic 
devotedness is that of these missionaries ! but 
what a reward is not such a result! I almost 
thought I was dreaming, or that I was witnessing 
the reality of a chapter from the ( Natchez. 

"Finally, a wonderful thing in Oceanica, the 
women are chaste and marriages are respected. 
Since this has been, the population, which usually 
decreases among savages, increases a third a year. 
But I must reserve something to tell you on my re 
turn, for I shall return, perhaps. . . ." 

Thiffis all, and one would hardly suspect, to read 
this narrative, only here and there interspersed 
with short reflections, what a deep and lasting im 
pression Alexis carried away from his visit to the 
G-ambier Islands. But in after life he was often 
heard to refer to that date the beginning of the 
work of his conversion, a work which was for a 
long time a secret one and reached its completion 
upon another shore four years later. If he had 
communicated all his thoughts to his father he 
would not have been understood. And was he 



before his Twenty-seventh Year. 35 

quite conscious himself, at that time, of what 
passed in the depths of his spul ? If I do not mis 
take, it was after having seen and sincerely admir 
ed all these wonders, and during his second so 
journ at Valparaiso, that he saw himself two 
steps from death, realized it, and yet had not a 
single thought for eternity. 

One day, to repeat what he several times related 
to his friends and brothers, he was* climbing up a 
steep and dangerous declivity having, perhaps, 
undertaken the ascent of some one of the Chilian 
mountains when suddenly his foot slipped and he 
felt himself rolling into the abyss. He might have 
lain there for ever, but fortunately he was drawn 
out alive, though badly bruised. The letter from 
which I have quoted above speaks of two splinters 
of bone being extracted without very great diffi 
culty, and of the assurance of a complete recovery. 
Now, at the critical moment when, losing all hope, 
he bade within himself a farewell to life, among 
the thousand reflections that crossed his mind with 
the rapidity of lightning, the most striking was 
this: "It was, indeed, worth the while, my poor 
Alexis, to enter the Polytechnic School, and to go 
through such a rude apprenticeship to the trade of 
a sailor, only to come here in the end to break 
your neck so far from your friends, and to leave 
your bones in this miserable hole ! " This was the 
limit of his philosophy then ; but patience ! the 
good seed is in his soul and it will bear its fruits. 

A sailor s life has this advantage namely, that 
by isolating men it ripens them, if they be ever 



36 Alexis Clerc 

so little disposed not to dissipate by frivolity the 
grave and serious thoughts which the sublime 
spectacles of nature must awaken in their breasts. 
Man feels himself so little in comparison with (he 
vast expanse of the heavens and the waters, so fee 
ble in his incessant struggle against the elements, 
that, even in spite of himself, he remembers that 
he is not master of his life, that he was not made 
for, himself, that his destiny is not in his own 
hands, and that he is a being irresistibly impelled 
towards a distant shore about which his reason can 
give him only a very imperfect knowledge. How 
will he not welcome the idea of a divine revelation 
and a Saviour, when it is presented to him in its 
radiant and consoling simplicity ! His ear is 
closed to the thousand noises of human throngs, 
and his solitary meditation is not disturbed by the 
conflict of opinions and systems. Truth, whose 
mysterious voice is never still, easily makes herself 
heard in his heart, and takes possession of his 
whole being from the moment he consents to lis 
ten. 

From the day he received at the G-ambier Islands 
this first ray of light the young sailor became 
more serious, more earnest ; and without having 
lost any of the amenity of his pleasing character, 
he began (this is plainly seen in his letters) to look 
at life in its graver aspects, and to have a better 
appreciation of his duties. His affection, always 
strong, for his father and brothers was purified, 
and expressed itself sometimes in touching regrets, 
and sometimes in aspirations and desires. He 



before his Twenty-seventh Year. 37 

realized, now that he was deprived of it, the sweet 
ness and value of the family life. 

" I have before me in my secretary," he writes 
to his father, " my library, the mere sight of which 
affords me great happiness. How sweet, and at 
the same time how sad ifc is, to gaze at these tokens 
of your affection, and of that of my brothers and 
friends ! 

"Alas ! this is the cruel part of the profession ; 
the old life is ended, and I shall see you perhaps 
only three or four times until I am retired from the 
service. 

is To have been so close to happiness and to have 
left it for ever ! Where shall I find the same 
affection, and, if I could find it, would I be able 
to break the bonds which bind me to the old ? No, 
and I would not want to if I could. Ah ! my dear, 
kind father, how well I understand now that I 
wasted my happiness by not enjoying more than I 
did your affection for me, and by hiding mine from 
you 1 How stupid it is to rebel against what is 
best, to be unwilling to yield anything, to forgive 
anything ! Alone, removed from exterior events, 
without anxiety about the material things of life, 
we understand better how much of the true happi 
ness of life comes from the family, and how delight 
ful is constant, mutual affection. I am deprived 
of it forever ; you are lost to me. What is there to 
compensate me for such a loss ? Absolutely no 
thing ; and the fate of a naval officer is to become 
insensible as a stone. He has torn himself away 
from all early affections, and he finds himself in- 



38 Alexis Clerc 

capable and undesirous of forming new ones only 
to be in turn torn from them." 

This conclusion, which nobody will be tempted 
to take seriously, was merely a whim. No, most 
certainly and Clerc is himself the best proof of it 
the naval officer is not by profession either in 
different or insensible, and he can say with as 
much truth as any other man : 

" Homo sum et human! nihil a me alienum puto." 

How sad poor Alexis is when, returning to Val 
paraiso after a first cruise in the Southern seas, he 
finds no letter from his father or brothers, no news 
from his family ! And also what an excess of joy 
is his when the mail has not miscarried, and he 
sees the dear handwriting again ! " Let me try to 
express," he writes in reply, " first of all my deep 
gratitude for your kind and affectionate letters. 
What solicitude in my behalf ! Ah ! my dear 
father, the warmth of my embraces could alone give 
you an idea of how sweet to my heart are the mul 
tiplied proofs of your tender affection. Your good 
ad vice is a kind Providence protecting a poor child 
so far away from home ; it delights me, and I make 
it my duty to follow it." 

In answer to his father s having said that he had 
accounts to render him, and that he considered 
himself his debtor, Alexis writes: "I am paid, 
overpaid. I feel almost angry at the idea of a 
father s owing accounts to his children. I don t 
want to ever hear it spoken of again," 

As to the advice which the young sailor asked, 



before his Twenty-seventh Year. 39 

and which he always cheerfully accepted, it was 
about not only the general direction of his life, but 
took in the details regarding propriety and man- 
ners. Here is quite a singular example of it : 
After a two years cruise, the time being come for 
his promotion, Alexis had the very natural desire 
to return to France, where, after an examination, 
he would be regularly advanced to the grade of 
ensign, He already performed the services of an 
officer, but he had not the rank a position doubly 
false for him, inasmuch as his age and his having 
been a pupil of the Polytechnic School separated 
him from the other cadets. If we join to this his 
eager desire to revisit his country and to embrace 
his father and brothers once more, we can without 
much difficulty conceive that he would take some 
steps to obtain from the commander of the squa 
dron it was, I believe, Admiral Hamelin per 
mission to return to France at the earliest oppor 
tunity. So far there was nothing but what was 
perfectly correct, and Mr. Clerc had no fault to 
find. But there had been some gossip about the 
matter, and what had reached the ears of that ex 
cellent father had, from his way of looking at 
things, attained in his mind enormous proportions. 
His son was it credible ? had written to ask an 
audience of the admiral! Had written! Was 
not this forgetting all his dignity, and assuming 
gratuitously the airs of a beggar ? At least, I sup 
pose this was what so shocked a man in love with 
the principles of 89, and so touchy about equality. 
But in point of fact the affair was quite different. 



40 Alexis Clcrc 

Alexis had simply addressed himself, as was cus 
tomary, to the admiral s aid, and to the off-hand 
question, " What do you want with him ? " of that 
personage, had replied: "Be good enough to 
name me to him, and I presume that will be suffi 
cient to make him aware of my business." How 
relieved Mr. Clerc must have felt when he 
learned that his son had not been guilty of 
what seemed to him a platitude ! This suscep 
tibility, which was perhaps excessive, will enable 
the reader to comprehend better than any words 
what must have been Alexis education, and what 
was the level of the ideas and sentiments of his 
honorable family. 

Alexis did not obtain his return at the end of 
two years, nor even of three, and it was only dur 
ing the fourth that, weary of a cruise the results 
of which were not in his eyes very magnificent, he 
landed again in France. When gazing at the bare 
and uninhabitable rocks which compose almost the 
whole of the archipelago of the Marquesas, musing 
upon the impenetrable mystery with which the ex 
pedition was surrounded to its close, and dreaming 
about the great expected results, he could not help 
crying out with his Parisian nervousness: "0 
mountain, what a bringing forth !" He perhaps 
thought within himself that one sailor more or 
less in the fleet did not matter much to the pro 
jects of colonization that were under consideration, 
while it mattered very much to him, Alexis Clerc, 
whether or no he remained indefinitely a simple 
cadet of the first class. He said something to this 



before his Twenty-seventh Year. 41 

effect to the admiral, who tried, without any suc 
cess, to persuade him that for the time being it 
was a great deal better for him to be a cadet than 
an officer, and who moreover had the want of tact 
(the phrase does not appear too strong to me) to 
add : " Of all the pupils of the Polytechnic School 
whom I have met in the government marine ser 
vice, I do not know one who is a sailor." 

It was decidedly imprudent and really too bad to 
say this to Alexis. -If he had been one of those 
young pedants stuffed full of equations, who 
would not touch with the end of their finger the 
smallest piece of rope, the lesson, if lesson there 
was, would have been well given ; but we have 
seen that our cadet did not deserve it in the least 
degree, and that by his anxiety to instruct himself 
and to learn his profession even from his inferiors 
he had caused the best opinions to be entertained 
of him. Thus it was that this quality of pupil of 
the Polytechnic School, which would have opened 
to him all the gates of a civil career, became an 
obstacle to his advancement ; those studies, that 
theoretical knowledge elsewhere so highly appre 
ciated, were laughed at here, and pronounced to be 
merchandise only fit to throw overboard. This 
gave the young man food for serious reflection ; he 
took a cool survey of his position, and saw himself 
in the isolation in which he had been left by the 
death of the regretted Commander Baligot. No 
name, no fortune, no military or naval notoriety 
in his family, none of those important relations 
that assist merit to rise, when they do not take 



42 Alexis Clerc 

the place of merit altogether. Could he rely upon 
liis sudden determination to be a sailor ? If he 
had deceived himself, would it not be better to re 
trace his steps while there was jet time ? Upon 
this point he examines himself, analyzes himself 
from head to foot, and then consults his best 
friend and his surest adviser, that enlightened 
father to whom he has recourse on all occasions : 

" I have not, I think, a great deal of ambition 
to sustain me in these continual struggles. Must 
one impose silence on that pride which claims an 
elevated position ? Or, on the other hand, must 
one make the sacrifice, at any price save that of. 
honor, of ail pretension to rank ? Or, again, shall 
I, fulfilling all my duties with modesty, wait till 
fortune deigns to think of me ? 

"The career of ambition is difficult, uncertain, 
and irritating on account of the constant disap 
pointments one meets with ; it is doubly so to 
me, who have no guide, and who feel only rarely 
that sacred fire which animates men whose ambi 
tion is noble. Now, I shall never have the narrow 
ambition of certain persons whom I know, who see 
in elevation only elevation, and the prestige and 
money that are attached to it, and uo not in (he 
least see in it a means of exercising their talents 
with advantage and success. 

"Would not the following plan be the best for 
me ? To occupy myself quietly with ths ideas 
which I love, to nourish the sentiments which are 
sweetest to me, and, fulfilling the duties of my 



before his Twenty-seventh Year. 43 

calling in the best possible manner, to trust the 
future to happy chance ? " 

A noble nature after all, that, even before being 
transfigured by grace, understood the full value of 
disinterestedness, and never sought after what was 
low or unworthy. 

We are ignorant of the father s reply. Doubt 
less he reserved his counsels for the time when, 
his son being returned to Paris, their mutual ex 
change of sentiments would be pleasanter and 
more intimate. That time seemed always to be 
postponed. Alexis told his friends that they 
would find him greatly changed ; that having 
parted from them at twenty-two, he would rejoin 
them at twenty-six a long period of life, grande 
spatitim, as Tacitus says, for men at that age. 

In the first part of January, 1845, while going 
from Arica to Islay (Peru), he wrote to his father 
and communicated some of his melancholy reflec 
tions. He finished his letter by saying : " I pro 
pose to make, on our arrival at Callao, which I 
hope will be soon, new attempts to leave the ves 
sel ; but I have little hope of succeeding. I think 
I will be able to inform you of their result in this 
letter, which. I shall mail only at Callao." Never 
theless, the end of this long and tedious cruise was 
approaching, and, contrary to all expectation, he 
was able to add to his letter this post-scriptwn : 
"To-day, January 21, the corvette has reached 
Callao. I have obtained the permit to return 
home on the frigate Charte, commanded by Mr. 
Penaud. She sails to-morrow for Valparaiso, and 



44 Alexis Clerc 

thence for France. That will be about the 25th 
of February, so I shall probably be in Brest at 
the beginning of July, and with you by August. 
But I have not joined the Cliarle as an officer. 
Nothing has deterred me when there was question 
of hastening my return/ He submitted, therefore, 
to a final trial, and, at twenty-six years, re 
sumed the rank and service of a midshipman ; but 
he was going at last to see France once more and 
to embrace his father. 

When he stepped on the soil of his native land 
he had had four years of service at sea ; he had 
visited in America, the. coasts of Brazil, of 
Chili, and of Peru, and had sailed all over 
Oceanica, stopping successively at the Gam- 
bier Islands, the Marquesas, Tahiti, and the 
"New Hebrides. His experience of the sea, 
which was nothing when he started, now began to 
surpass that of a midshipman of the first class. 
We have proof of this in the report given of him 
by Captain (since Admiral) Penaud, an officer of 
merit, but who, we are told, did not sin by exces 
sive indulgence. This is his report of Alexis 
Clerc: " Active, and makes himself useful ; has a 
taste for the sea, and has learned a great deal more 
in practice than might be expected of a pupil of 
the Polytechnic School." * 

But the great result of this cruise was for him 
the divine ray that had penetrated his soul at the 
sight of the G-ambier mission a ray whose ever- 

* Archives of the Naval Bureau. 



before his Twenty-seventh Year. 45 

increasing clearness would illumine his whole life 
and discover to him the straight path in which 
God himself guides his elect. How far had this 
marvellous transformation progressed at the close of 
his four years of sea service ? We know from good 
authority that at the moment of leaving Valparaiso 
for France he imparted to an officer, with whose 
Christian sentiments he was acquainted, his desire 
to become a Christian also, and begged him to give 
him introductions to some friends whose example 
and counsels might further so laudable a purpose. 
Therefore it is certain that indifference was 
banished from, his- soul, and we may regard him as 
already on the right road. We would probably be 
more edified by his interior dispositions if we could 
find a letter which he sent to his father for a third 
person, and to which he drew his father s attention 
by the following words: "This parcel contains a 
letter for my Uncle Bourgeois, which, I beg you to 
forward to him. I would like you to read it with 
out being too much astonished, and especially 
without believing that I am not sincere. There 
are so many recesses in the human heart that the 
most opposite things may be found there." 

What, then, is this revelation he makes to his 
uncle of a recess of his heart which is quite new 
to his own father, whom he would have share the 
secret ? The reader will divine it when he learns 
that the Uncle Bourgeois was a perfect Christian, 
as well as a man of quite a high order of intellect, 
and occupying a certain position in the scientific 
world. Alexis doubtless hoped by this means to 



46 Alexis Clerc 

suggest to his father reflections which, novel as 
they were to himself, would be gladly welcomed by 
his uncle, hut could not without preparation be 
addressed to the one of the three who had the 
greatest need to be influenced by them. 

It seems as though the reader must now have be 
come pretty well acquainted with this young man, 
not only by means of the unanimous testimony of 
the companions of his. childhood and youth, but 
still more through the living likeness he has left of 
himself in those letters to his father from which 
we have several times quoted. 

His was a transparent nature, and,, for the rest, 
perfectly straightforward, loyal and generous to a 
fault, and glowing throughout. Notwithstanding 
many lost pages which will probably never be 
found, his life already appears to us like an open 
book which all may read without difficulty, and 
wherein the sense of things is plain without the 
aid of any commentary. 

In sorting his papers I came across a singular 
note in an unknown handwriting, and one which 
does not reappear in his voluminous correspon 
dence. Was it scrawled by a somnambulist ? Or 
is it the work of somebody who pretended to un 
ravel people s character, and read their destinies 
from a few lines of their handwriting ? An honest 
man will sometimes, if only for sport, lend himself 
to these attempts at divination ; and if the attempt 
happens to be successful, the paper is thrown in a 
desk and preserved as a curiosity and a souvenir. 

Whatever was the origin of the document to 



before his Twenty-seventh Year. 47 

which I refer, here are some paragraphs from it 
that are certainly applicable to the subject of this 
biography : 

" Active, energetic, impressionable, irritable ; 
extremely enterprising, laboring with enthusiasm 
and nevertheless easily discouraged. Needs to be 
supported by others." Doubtless, but also know 
ing how to support himself when all exterior help 
fails, and struggling with courage against discour 
agement. 

"A great deal of spontaneity, irresolute, slow 
to decide ; lively passions, anger easily roused." 
Both true and false, but more the former than the 
latter. 

" Speech quick and jerking at times." Very 
good. " Ideas eccentric and fantastic." True 
again, but with this reserve : his wayward and fan 
tastic imagination was overruled by sound common 
sense. " Will have quarrels and lawsuits." The 
sagacity of our soothsayer is quite at fault on this 
point ; Alexis could not have lawsuits for the very 
simple reason that his rather empty purse was open 
to everybody, and to him who asked for two sous 
he would give three, and <?ven more. 

" Marked sincerity, sometimes exaggerated." 
Wonderfully correct. 

" He will travel a great deal and make long voy 
ages." I suspect this was not arrived at by pure 
and simple divination, but by an easy process of 
induction. 

" A restless life and business troubles " (no more 
business than lawsuits). " Fortunate chances now 



48 Alexis Clerc. 

and then, but will not derive from them all the ad 
vantage possible." 

" Useful and devoted to his friends/ 5 Yes, and 
we shall meet with more than one proof of it. 

Finally, a last stroke, and a seemingly pro-phetic 
one: "Will encounter great and diverse perils." 
How did the magician know this ? Probably by 
means of very vague conjectures which might just 
as well never have been realized. 

Nevertheless, given the strong and positive char 
acter of our hero, a certain Christian philosophy 
would lead to the conclusion that Providence 
doubtless reserved for him trials in proportion to 
his energy and courage. " God tempers the wind 
to the shorn lamb" is an old proverb, and one that 
is of some value, for it reassures and consoles those 
who do not feel themselves sufficiently well armed 
for the struggles of life. 

But, on the other hand, for a similar reason, to 
the strong great and hard trials ! According to 
this our Alexis should expect to encounter combats 
and tempests. 




CHAPTER II. 

SOJOURN IN PRANCE ANOTHER CRUISE CONVERSION. 

WE know little of Alexis sojourn in France from 
October 14, 1845, to May 26, 1846, the date of a 
new embarkation. 

From the moment he was with or near his family 
his correspondence fails us. Nevertheless, we are 
able to relate almost in detail how he filled up that 
internal of about seven months. Judging from its 
results and from his reminiscence of it in his letters 
afterwards, it was not time lost either with regard 
to his career or to his progress towards a Christian 
life. 

At Toulon, having finally succeeded in passing 
his examination, he was promoted to the rank of 
ensign. Then he went to Paris, and was not idle 
there, as we shall see. 

To be an ensign at twenty-six years of age was 
not a bewildering success, and, after his experi 
ence, our young officer could not promise himself a 
rapid advancement. Moreover, he still had his 
doubts as to whether he had made the right choice 
of a career. We do not know if it was by the ad 
vice of his father or of some friend of the family 



50 Alexis Clerc. 

that he determined, at all events, to prepare him 
self to enter on another more in harmony, perhaps, 
with his antecedents that of public instruction. 
Certain it is that he set himself courageously to 
the study of mathematics, and even became a pupil 
of one of his old companions of the Polytechnic, 
Mr. Joseph Bertrand, then a professor at the Col 
lege St. Louis. In three months he had obtained 
the diplomas of bachelor and licentiate of the ma 
thematical sciences, and was preparing for the de 
gree of doctor, when the prospect of a new expedi 
tion re-engaged him to the sea for a long period. 

But the preparation for his examinations was far 
from absorbing him completely, and he undertook 
at the same time studies of a very different nature, 
and which were to give to his life quite another di 
rection. 

As we have already said, he was not systemati 
cally an infidel, and the Voltairianism of his father 
had never gained an empire over him. Still less 
had he allowed himself to be carried away by the 
absurd doctrines of Fourier, who then counted 
numerous disciples in the Polytechnic School. 

Wiser on this single point than so many others, 
he had made no compact with error. But from 
the age of fourteen, having never entered a church, 
he had heard no mention of God, neither had he 
read anything of such books as enlighten man re 
garding his future destiny and his eternal here 
after. He had become an absolute pagan. He 
needed to be educated over again. He understood 
this, and applied himself resolutely to the task. 



Conversion. 5 1 

It happened to him as to Marceau, that grand 
Christian who, like our young hero, was extremely 
ignorant, and impious to a degree that was some 
what aggressive, until the day when the scales fell 
from his eyes. Urged by I know not what curi 
osity, or rather obedient to a first and mysterious 
impulse of grace, Captain Marceau asked an eccle 
siastic of Toulon* for a book on the Catholic re 
ligion, one in which the question was thoroughly 
discussed. The worthy priest gave him Duvoisin s 
"Demonstration Evangelique." Marceau read it 
from beginning to end, at first with a certain mis 
trust and suspicion, then with passionate interest, 
while light penetrated deeper and deeper into his 
soul. And this, his historian relates, was the 
commencement of his remarkable conversion, which 
preceded by several years that of Alexis Clerc. 

Who was it that placed the same book in our 
young sailor s hands ? I do not know ; but what 
I do know is that he read it with the same fruit 
as Marceau, and that later he recommended it to 
his friends as a remedy the efficaciousness of 
which he had himself experienced. It is truly a 
very good book, written with all the seriousness 
that characterized the old French school. Born 
towards the middle of the eighteenth century, 
Duvoisin had been a professor of the Sorbonne 
before the Revolution. The Concordat made him 
a bishop, and he administered the diocese of Nantes 
wisely; but, for his misfortune, in 1811 he be- 

* The Abb4 Gilbert, vicar of St. Mary s. 



52 Alexis Clerc. 

came a member of the ecclesiastical commission 
presided over by Cardinal Fesch, and, alas ! on 
that memorable occasion he was not heroic. There 
fell a blot upon his name, but this should in no 
wise detract from the value of the remarkable 
apologetic treatise of which he was the author. 
Every man desirous of instruction in that which 
it is sinful to be ignorant of, will find there, in a 
few pages written without pretension, but not 
without warmth, though in a style that is always 
moderate and discreet, all the elements of a solid 
and deliberate conviction. 

" Is the Christian religion a revealed religion ? 
This is the state of the question. It is the ques 
tion of a fact which can only be decided by facts 
that is to say, by all the proofs that are the most con 
vincing, the most easily understood, and the most 
analogous to the principles and sentiments that 
influence us in the ordinary course of life. The 
Author of Christianity declared himself to be the 
envoy of God. His disciples affirm that he justi 
fied his mission by prodigies evidently supernatu 
ral, and they offer in proof of this not only their 
testimony, but also similar prodigies worked by 
them in the name of their Master. Did Jesus 
Christ and his apostles work the miracles that are 
attributed to them ? and have these miracles, with 
respect to us, a degree of certainty that does not 
permit a reasonable man to call them in question ? " 
(" Demonstration Evangelique,"p. 4. Paris, 1818.) 

This is, in short, the whole question ; it is 
clearly put, and, we should add, conscientiously 



Conversion. 53 

resolved &o conscientiously that in reaching the 
conclusion of his book the apologist may address 
God himself, and say to him witli Richard of Saint- 
Victor : "God of truth ! I believe firmly all thou 
hast revealed to me through Jesus, thy Son. He 
alone has the words of eternal life, and there is no 
other name under heaven by which we can be 
saved. I do not fear to wander in following such 
a guide. But if, to suppose an impossibility, my 
faith were an error, it would be thou who would 
have deceived me in permitiing Christianity to be 
marked with characters whereon I recognize the 
impress of thy omnipotence." * 

We have desired by the foregoing paragraphs to 
draw the attention of the reader to a book which 
Alexis Clerc, from his personal experience after 
wards confirmed by more profound study, held in 
high esteem. 

Alexis also read the " Pensees " of Pascal, and as 
he was extremely sensitive not only to the philo 
sophical range of the ideas but still more to the 
beauty of the language, he infinitely enjoyed the 
illustrious thinker who is undoubtedly one of our 
greatest writers. Whether he compares the enter 
prise of Jesus Christ with that of Mohammed, and 
arrives at the conclusion that " since Mohammed 
succeeded, Christianity must have perished if it had 
not been sustained by a divine power " ; or whether 
he says quite simply, but with the authority of an 

* Dotnine, si error est quern credirnus, a te decepti sumus ; 
quoniam iis signis prsedita est religio, quae nonnisi a te esse 
potueruiit. Richard of Saint Victor, quoted by Duvoisin, 
* Demonstration Evangelique," \\ 300. 



54 Alexis Clerc. 

immovable conviction, that he believes "witnesses 
that imperil their lives," Pascal, who, under dif 
ferent circumstances, would perhaps have been the 
most powerful of apologists, abounds in expres 
sions that bear the stamp of genius and are like so 
many medals commemorative of the great, divine 
events which compose the entire history of Chris 
tianity. He is, however, less exact, less to be de 
pended on, when, seeming to take pleasure in 
making a complete revelation of the misery of 
fallen man, he is filled with indignation at the im 
mense ruin, and undertakes to despoil the image 
of God of whatever still remains to recall its origin. 
If human reason were as infirm as he pretends, as 
fatally prone to error, we should be forced to de 
spair of it, we should be obliged to renounce all 
hope of persuading it to accept the first principles 
of faith. Therefore, whatever else may be said of 
it, in this part of his sublime essay Pascal is more 
Jansenist than Catholic, and the painful scepti 
cism which so frequently breathes from his immor 
tal pages is not always unfraught with danger. It 
was a remarkable thing ! Clerc, though the mer 
est novice in these matters, had a confused con 
sciousness of this weak side of an author of genius, 
and we shall see in a letter to be referred to pre 
sently that he did not regard the t( Pensees" as a 
book very well suited to enlighten a certain class 
of minds. 

I am unable to say if it was then or afterwards 
that he also read and singularly enjoyed La Bru- 
yere s eloquent chapter on " Les Esprits Forts " , 



Conversion. 5 5 

and as it was his habit to communicate his likes 
and preferences to the fullest extent possible, we 
shall see him sharing with his friends his admira 
tion for that remarkable fragment, the apologetic 
value of which is certainly not to be disdained. 

Thus, from the beginning, guided solely by his 
love for the true and the beautiful, Alexis entered 
on their own level the society of the great Chris 
tian spirits of the seventeenth centurj^ and found 
himself at his ease with them passably well for a 
child of the nineteenth educated in quite another 
school. Later he did better still : he bravely ap 
proached St. Augustine and St. Thomas, conse 
crated his leisure to them, became their disciple, 
and, when necessary, their interpreter a rare re 
solution in a man of his profession and one who did 
nothing from caprice. 

Nevertheless, all was not yet accomplished, and 
the conversion of the heart was strangely behind 
that of the intellect. In spite of the promises 
which he had made himself he did not profit by 
his sojourn in Paris to obey the voice that said to 
him as to the poor leper : " Ostende te sacerdoti." 
If he saw the priests it was afar off. 

At that time there were in Paris illustrious 
priests later he would know them better whose 
eloquence filled the nave of Notre Dame with an 
immense auditory, young and eager for good. In 
descending from the pulpit at the close of the 
Lent of 1845, Father de Eavignan had said : " Eise 
up, then, young men, in the midst of a sick socie 
ty, and proclaim to it your strength and your hap- 



5 6 Alexis Clerc. 

piness ; let it meet you, let it see you wherever evil 
needs a remedy or tlie good consolation and sup 
port. Display the courage of Catholic convictions 
in the most advanced posts of the struggle, in the 
combat of science, of philosophy, of letters, of in 
dustry, of arts, and of liberty. Let the loud voice 
of Christianity resound in that chaotic confusion 
of opinions and doctrines. Tell the multitudes 
that you desire, that we desire, the glory and pros 
perity of the country, the development of its insti 
tutions, the free range of genius and of great 
thoughts. Feel yourselves to be placed very high, 
and teach those who are ignorant your language 
and your faith; re-establish by Christian conscience 
the empire of justice, of truth, and of a holy in 
dependence. Be assured of it, you have received 
more power and perpetuity than all the exhausted 
experimenters in human theories." 

Such was the keynote at that date, and the 
grave and austere voice of Father de Eavignan did 
not sound it with the same vibrations as did Fa 
ther Lacordaire s, which was more in sympathy 
with youth. What years were those, and what 
men ! In the Chamber of Peers Montalemberfc 
was daily at the breach, the indefatigable champion 
of every great Catholic cause. The struggle con 
tinued for two years ; and if, on one side, we were 
saddened by a revival of impiety which showed 
itself in the periodical press, and even in the chairs 
of higher instruction, we took courage when we 
saw the entire episcopate guiding to the battles of 
the holy war the generous sons of the Crusaders. 



Conversion. 57 

The Society of Jesus was proscribed ; it had to 
hide itself and play dead to humor the timidity of 
the powers that were ; but it had just affirmed its 
existence as it never had before since the begin 
ning of the century, in the eloquent plea of Father 
de Ravignan entitled " De FExistenceet de 1 Insti- 
tut des Jesuites." The liberty which Father de Ra- 
vignan claimed in the name of common law, Father 
Lacordaire had taken shortly before. He had 
mounted the pulpit of Notre Dame clothed in the 
white robe of the Dominicans, and none had dared 
ask him by what right he wore the habit of his 
order. 

All France had its eyes fixed upon those two 
illustrious religious, who, in the full zenith of the 
most exalted fame, were rivals only in eloquence, 
apostolic zeal, and fraternal charity. After the 
appearance of Father de Rivignan s beautiful book, 
Father Lacordaire, at a solemn sitting of the Cercle 
Caiholique, presided over by the Archbishop of 
Paris, cried out : " If we were in England I should 
propose three cheers for Father de Ravignan." 
These words were followed by unanimous applause 
three times repeated.* 

Can it be supposed that Clerc, who returned to 
France with the intention of professing Christian 
ity, remained unmoved by those grand spectacles ? 
Should I be told so I would not believe it, so con 
trary would such indifference be to what I know 



*"Life of Father de Ravignan," by Father de Ponlevoy, 
vol. i. p. 289. 



58 Alexis Clerc. 

of his character. Nevertheless, whatever were his 
sentiments, he did not then take the decisive step. 
Even worse: finding himself again in the midst 
of the same temptations to which he had yielded so 
many times before, he experienced the same weak 
ness as in the past, and felt further than ever dis 
tant from the goal towards which tended, not 
withstanding, all the convictions of his Christian 
ized reason, 

I find the avowal of this in some manuscript 
notes that bear the date of a long retreat made at 
Saint-Acheul after his entrance in the Society of 
Jesus. 

Permit me to raise this veil. Let it be well un 
derstood that it is with all the respect due to his 
venerated memory and to his glorious death, but 
with the sincerity which he would have practised 
himself if, a new Augustine, he had left us the 
book of his " Confessions." Ah ! well. Yes, I 
believe the accusatory notes of his retreat at Saint- 
Acheul, and I am not afraid to divulge here the 
wanderings of his youth, which were to be trans 
formed into the triumph of infinite mercy. Like 
so many other children of the world, in that in 
fected atmosphere of Paris he had early made ac 
quaintance with evil, and he had no horror of it. 
The educational houses which he entered, endowed 
with a dangerous precocity, were poor protectors 
of his innocence, and he lent a willing ear to the 
voice of his passions. Once probably to exempt 
himself from all religious practices he had the 
sad courage to call himself a Protestant ; and if he 



Conversion. 59 

then imposed upon himself some sort of restraint, it 
was not virtue, for in reference to it he names him 
self a wliited sepulchre. But dissimulation was 
too repugnant to his nature; he soon threw off 
the bridle and would not appear other than he 
was. The Polytechnic School, Brest, the Marque 
sas Islands, Valparaiso, and finally Paris whither 
he returned after having received the first impres 
sions of grace each of these names excites his 
remorse by bringing to his memory the excesses 
and the scandals of his youth. 

St. Augustine, who knew something of such 
matters, eloquently describes to us that state of 
struggle wherein, the reason being convinced and 
three-quarters submissive, the heart still hesitates 
and has not the courage to break the bonds which 
hold it captive under the yoke of the senses.* His 
evil and frivolous inclinations emulated one an 
other in pulling him by the garment of his flesh 
and murmuring in his ear: "What! thou wilt 
quit us ? Then all is over, and the separation will 
be eternal. Then the time has come when thou. 
shalt never again enjoy thy liberty." 

This was the state of Alexis soul on his return 
to Paris after his cruise in the Southern seas, and 
this was the reason why he, who already believed 
and desired to practise, could be present at those 
grand manifestations of Catholic faith which 
aroused the heaviest sleepers, and take no part in 
them save by his regrets joined to the sentiment of 

* " Confessions," b. viii. c. xi. 



60 Alexis Clerc. 

his unworthiness. So true it is that strength of 
character is not everything, and that souls of the 
most tempered metal succumb just where the little 
and the weak gain the victory with the grace of 
God. 

During the month of May we find Alexis again, 
at Toulon, in active service and getting ready for a 
new voyage. His correspondence, interrupted by 
his stay in Paris, reopens and gives us light re 
garding his interior at a period that was very near 
his conversion. 

" My dear father," he writes on Sunday, the 
30th of May, " I sail to-morrow, Monday, on board 
the steam corvette Caiman for the station of Sene 
gal. I received my orders only Wednesday. The 
preparations for so sudden a departure, and, still 
more, the certainty that I could receive no reply to 
my letter, have caused me to put off writing until 
to-day. I would have been very glad to have heard 
from Paris, especially about the subject of the last 
letter I sent you ; and as I hoped from day to day to 
receive your reply, I have delayed until the last day 
the last, words which I can write to you in France. 
This expedition, which I did not in the least ex 
pect, has been avoided as far as possible by every 
body ; hence, as a matter of course, it falls to my 
lot. I regret that I am not to embark at least in 
a ship. But the worst of all is that I am again to 
go a lorg distance, and be absent, perhaps, a long 
time. I count on a cruise of at least a year s dura 
tion ; but it is impossible to foresee anything now. 
Notwithstanding all the inconveniences of this 



Conversion. 6 1 

voyage, I believe I have resigned myself to it philo 
sophically enough. I am fully convinced that no 
body possesses sufficient sagacity to look into the 
future and so far ahead. Meanwhile, I can only 
say that I am hopeful. I expect quiet and peace 
on shipboard, and that is all. That being secured, I 
shall have, I hope, something to fill the time during 
the cruise." 

He carried books with him as usual, but his li 
brary was now renewed, and religious works filled 
a large place in it. He knew not whither God was 
leading him ; by an instinctive presentiment he 
tried to hide away from the lash that was soon to 
cut him. to the quick. 

Another letter, commenced at sea June 22, and 
finished the 27th outside the bar of Senegal : 

" We have, my dear father, this morning, June 
22, passed the Canary Islands without touching at 
them, and to-morrow we shall have the sun in the 
north. Madame Pages will probably before you 
receive this have communicated to you the con 
tents of a letter I sent from Cadiz, so I need 
only give you my news since that date. You al 
ready know from Madame Pages letter that before 
going to Cadiz we landed the consul of Mogadore 
at Tangier. We were to return for him after he 
should have conferred with the consul-general of 
France, and take him to his destination. We left 
Cadiz on the 13th, but we met at the entrance of 
the straits an extremely violent easterly wind, and 
the commander judged it prudent to return to 
Cadiz. That same evening we were anchored op- 



62 Alexis Clerc. 

posite the city. The next day, Sunday, the 14th, 
I was on watch, and had just succeeded in consol 
ing myself for being denied the pleasure of going 
ashore. There was something on shore worth 
going to see: there was a bull-fight in Cadiz. 
But, behold ! the commander advises me to go, 
and offers to take my place on the watch. I, not 
proud at all, accept. Therefore, behold again, I 
am at the show ! It is decidedly a realization of 
the absurd, the impossible. Where were ever seen, 
even in fairy tales, commanders keeping guard for 
their officers so as to let them go to bull-fights ? 
It is an absurdity and an impossibility ! " 

He was a witness, then, of that bloody spectacle, 
that butchery, the preparations for which inspired 
him with only an insurmountable disgust. But 
soon he was astonished to find himself captivated 
by curiosity, by dramatic emotion, and finally 
seized upon by the species of frenzy that carried 
away the entire assemblage. 

" At sight of the first two horses horribly man 
gled, I was bathed with perspiration and my heart 
swelled in my breast ; I would much rather have 
been at my post on the vessel. Yet, notwithstand 
ing, I remained until eight o clock in the evening. I 
saw eight bulls killed, ten horses disembowelled, and 
two picadors carried away half dead. If the com 
bat had lasted twenty-four hours, I believe I would 
have stayed without food or drink. Finally can 
you credit it ? at only the second bull I applauded 
the dexterous onsets both of the beast and of the 
men, I hooted at the awkward ones, and I called 



Conversion. 63 

for the dogs when the bull seemed to me too quiefc. 
I said to myself : The horses are but worthless 
jades, which are brought to the circus to save the 
trouble of taking them to the slaughter-pens ; as 
to the picadors, they are of about as much value as 
their steeds. How well I understand now the 
prowess of the gladiators ! How glorious it must 
have been to transport a whole people with admi 
ration for one s skill, strength, and courage ! What 
an intoxication of joy must have been such a vic 
tory and such applause in the full light of day ! 
There was an unlucky matadore ; in his place I 
would have let the bull kill me, or I would have 
killed him with a single blow. 

" Ah ! how much cruelty and folly are hidden 
and dormant in our hearts. Could I ever have 
believed that I would have felt and thought as I 
did at a bull-fight ? Imagine, then, that you know 
yourself only until some similar test proves to you 
quite the contrary ! 

" Yet, in spite of the disagreeable revelation, I 
would return directly to see bulls killed, horses 
torn to pieces, and picadors bruised and crushed, 
or I would give a good deal not to have had a first 
glimpse of such spectacles." 

At Tangier Clerc spent an evening with the 
French consul, who had invited for the occasion 
all his European colleagues. Our young officer 
danced, waltzed, and abandoned himself to a frank 
gayety, while at the same time carefully observing 
from the corner of his eye the cosmopolitan socie y, 
and making aside to himself piquant reflections on 



64 Alexis Clerc. 

the harmony that existed among the representa 
tives of the different nations, thanks to the neces 
sity of agreeing together if they did not want to 
live like owls. 

Here is a shaft which he cannot refrain from 
lancing as he leaves Tangier : " We have shown 
this most amiable Emperor of Morocco the civility 
of transporting to Mogadore half a dozen little 
negroes, slaves and eunuchs destined for his 
harem, and we are going to Senegal to put down 
the slave-trade ! But, according to report, it is 
forbidden to capture, or even to see, a slave-ship. 
The result will enable me to affirm or deny the 
truth of this singular mission. I think that Mr. 
Billault s hubbub about his right of search is the 
cause of the presence of twenty-six Government 
vessels at this frightful station. If they occasion 
ally sent all such spouters on a little hard service^ 
I believe it would have a good effect. However, we 
must wait to see before we can be quite sure." 

He did well not to decide about the matter pre 
maturely. Some days later than the date of his 
writing, the Caiman, having encountered a slave- 
ship, performed its duty conscientiously. As to 
his bad humor about Mr. Billault and the negro- 
loving orators, obstinate as they were regarding the 
right of search which they talked about quite at 
their ease, it was very general among seamen, and 
other persons who thought they knew, to suspect 
English philanthropy of not being disinterested in 
claiming a right that was extremely onerous to the 
authorities of the French nayy. 



Conversion. 65 

On the voyage he sketches the portraits of the 
ship s officers, whom generally he seems to like. 
The commander, Captain Kousse, is a Provei^al 
already on the down-hill bide of life and regretting 
a little the fig-trees and the olive-groves of his 
country-seat, but good, indulgent towards his in 
feriors, and very kindly disposed towards Ensign 
Clerc, to whom he teaches his profession. " Yes 
terday evening he held a long conversation with me 
and pointed out the best and worthiest means of pre 
ferment that is to say, gave me a summary of all 
that it is useful to know, indicated the methods of 
studying and of profitably employing the know 
ledge gained. This showed experience and kind- 
heartedness. Thus you see, my dear father, I 
have fallen into good hands. It is true he makes 
profession of a very prosaic positivism ; but " (Clerc 
adds wisely) " as he was led to this by the excesses 
of contrary sentiments, and as he is now a very 
good man, I congratulate myself upon having him 
for a master. The second in rank is Mr. Esman- 
gard, the lieutenant, a man pleasing in his person 
and disposition. From the very first we im 
pressed one another favorably, and if the devil 
does not interfere 1 shall one day have a friend in 
him." 

And true enough, they became friends. If I am 
correctly informed, this young officer proclaimed 
himself as belonging to the school of Fourier, 
which then counted many members, as was evi 
dent in 1848. Clerc s conversion, which Esman- 
gard was a witness of, left their affection the 



66 Alexis Clerc. 

same without bringing them nearer to one another 
in their religious beliefs. 

Meanwhile Alexis did not lose his time ; he re 
flected, he studied, sometimes mathematics, some 
times political economy, and oftener still religion ; 
it was plain that the last was in reality his chief 
business. 

One day he wrote to his brother Jules these singu 
lar lines ; the embarrassment visible in them betrays 
the thought which possessed him and ruled him 
in spite of himself : " I have been twisting my pen 
in my fingers a quarter of an hour without daring 
to write a word. In fact, it s a great bore to talk 
always about one s self. I declare that if you do 
not send me back change (and with interest, too) 
for my gold piece, it s finished I will write to you* 
no more. This condition laid down, I now con 
tinue. The little time that is left from play, 
sleep, or work, I read J. B. Say and the His- 
toire des Variations. They form a striking 
enough contrast ; the one is occupied with only 
material goods, and never imagines that there are 
any others, and the other pays not the slightest at 
tention to aught that is not spiritual. But there 
are books that one must be acquainted with ; the 
only way to do is to pick out what is good in them 
and leave the rest. Then, besides, our profession 
obliges us to learn from books what you civilians 
learn in spile of yourselves. We must know what 
views to hold on the questions of customs, com 
merce, manufactures, colonization, commercial 
treaties. We may have to meddle in such matters, 



Conversion. 67 

and then it would be too late to begin to study 
them up ; hence the mixture in which I have been 
Stirling recently. It is now past midnight, and 
past my watch also. Good-night. I am going to 
take Bossuet ; he has the privilege of keeping me 
company until I fall asleep." 

Again taking his pen, he adds : "I make all 
sorts of efforts to become wiser and more reli 
gious; but it is difficult, and my stay in Paris 
helped to increase the obstacles. I hope that you 
are on the same road, and I do not doubt that you 
travel it more rapidly than I. I recommend to 
you Bossuet s ( Meditations and Elevations ; 
they are two excellent books." 

The two brothers had derived from the 
same sources the germ of religious indifference. 
But grace acted on their hearts simultaneously, 
and the hour approached when the joy felt by each 
on returning to God would be doubled by the re 
turn and the complete reconciliation of a well- 
beloved brother. 

Shortly before arriving at Gabon Alexis wrote 
again to his father ; we must read between the 
lines of this letter to guess what was passing in his 
soul. 

" MY DEAR FATHER : We met this morning a 
poor devil of a slave-trader. We were sailing 
quietly towards Gabon. We kindled the fires, and 
an hour later the vessel received one of our boats.* 



* The slaver was, therefore, captured, and the commander 
of the Caiman fulfilled his duty by preventing the transpor 
tation of the poor victims of the traffic. 



68 Alexis Clerc. 

The prize is about starting off again, and I shall 
confide this letter to it. 

" You know very well, dear father, that it is 
only in romances that sailors lead an adventurous 
life. In reality, nothing is so uniform, so regular; 
it is almost a monastic life, and truly I have abso 
lutely nothing to tell you, for there has nothing 
happened but the weather. But one may talk 
without saying anything. Well, then, I am in 
very good health ; I am not tired, and I no longer 
feel that terrible need of Paris which tormented 
me so much hardly a year ago. This does not pre 
vent me from desiring and regretting it, but it is 
not a suffering. 

"I am always as comfortable as possible on this 
ship, yet, nevertheless, I want to leave it to go with 
Esmangard on a sailing vessel. 

" The departure of the officer who commands 
our capture of this morning leaves me, after the 
lieutenant, the oldest officer on board, so that the 
next capture could, if I wished, put me off and 
consequently bring me back to France. What do 
you think of it ? But we should not sell the bear s 
skin. . . . 

"I hope to find letters at G-abon, where we shall 
be in a few days. As yet I have received none. In 
Paris they know not the good letters do a poor 
exile. You you are not separated ! 

" Do you not think there was a sort of fatality in 
my embracing this mode of life ? I am not com 
plaining of it, I am almost as happy as possible ; 
but it seems to me that there was something for- 



Conversion. 69 

eign to my will which urged me five years ago to 
decide for the sea. Five years ! I have had to 
count it over several times. Yes, it is five years 
since I left you ; five years ! I am twenty -seven 
now. How quickly time passes even when one is 
unhappy ! But past sorrow is a present joy ; it is 
sweet to remember it. 

" I am exerting all my efforts to become wise, 
my dear father that is to say, religious, for there 
is no happiness outside of religion. I have great 
need of counsel ; I am entirely deprived of it ; I 
should find such excellent in France. 

" I charge you, dear father, to embrace Jules 
for me Jules, that good and honest man ; tell 
him, without wounding his modesty, that I do not 
know where to find a heart as intelligent and as 
devoted as his. 



" Farewell, dear father. I embrace you with all 
my heart ; take care of yourself. If I only might 
wish you a rest ! But you consider your work as 
a duty. We understand you, but we would rather 
have you live for yourself a little towards the end. 
Farewell, dear father ! " 

- At last he saw Gabon, that new sort of a pro 
mised land, an arid and mountainous coast 
just on the equator. There, however, milk and 
honey flowed for him ; there he tasted the joy of 
feeling himself at peace with God and with his own 
conscience, and when he quitted the African shore 
to return to France he had commenced a new life. 






7O Alexis Clerc. 

"We have before us a letter to his brother, dated 
"Wydah, January 25, 1847 : " A missionary who 
took passage on the Caiman at Goree tells us that 
, Wydah is a city of the powerful kingdom of 
Dahomey. The king of this country is cele 
brated in Guinea for his palace with its walls 
ornamented with human bones, and for his famous 
noble-guard composed of women armed cap-d-piQ 
and possessed of invincible courage/ * 

In this letter, filled with warm expressions of af 
fection, there is manifest the joy of the prodigal son 
restored to his father s favor. Alexis had just 
learned through friends who had written to him 
from Paris that his brother, touched like himself 
by grace, now fulfilled all the duties of a fervent 
Christian. He offers him the hearty congratu 
lations of a man who knows the value of a sincere 
conversion and is on the way to an experience of 
it : " How far this kingdom is from that of the 
world ! how it superabounds in goodness ! how 
firm are its foundations ! It has nob been given 
me to witness your happiness, to associate myself 
with it ; this joy is perhaps reserved for us; we will 
both pray for it." 

Then, thinking of the innocence of his early 
childhood, guarded by a good and pious mother, it 
no longer appears to him as a reproach, but rather 
as a motive for hoping a great deal. What could 



* Letter of Father Briot, missionary apostolic of the Con 
gregation of the Holy Heart of Mary, to Father Liberraann, 
superior of the same congregation ("Annals of the Propaga 
tion of the Faith," vol. xx. p. 334). 



Conversion. J\ 

there be more touching than this cry of his heart 
at the moment when he feels himself being born 
again to faith and virtue : " We must both seek 
to join a poor, holy woman who from on high 
reaches her arms towards us. She calls us most 
certainly with all her might." 

All his views of life are enlarged and embellished 
by the sight of the eternity to which he aspires, 
and he does not tire of blessing the infinite mercy 
which calls him, so guilty, to so great a happiness. 
"How happy I shall be if I am permitted to find 
myself with you once more ! What a happy 
change there will be in our companionship 1 How 
unfortunate has been our wandering, and how- 
much more unfortunate are they who have tried so 
hard to make what is so odious seem amiable ! 
What a clemency it is that has so long endured this 
pride and corruption ! How heavy is my account 
in all this!" 

The Christian virtues, which are sisters, have, all 
at the same time, taken possession of his soul : 
humility, mistrust of self, unlimited respect for the 
authority of the Church represented by her minis- 
ters, and a salutary fear of going astray through 
trusting too much to his own light. 

He writes on the 1st of February : "I very much 
regret not being in Paris. I have the greatest need 
of advice. My life it is my ardent desire ought 
henceforth to follow new paths. I have not yet 
traced out the route. Communication with a pious 
and enlightened man would be to me, as a man and 
as a Christian, of the highest advantage. Solitude 



72 Alexis Clerc. 

may be profitable, but it may also be dangerous, 
and with my Latin Bible which I perhaps misun 
derstand oftener than I am. aware of for my only 
conversation, I am exposed to many perils. I 
have continual fears and doubts, and, to say noth 
ing of the thousand doctrinal errors into which I 
may fall daily without knowing it, I dare not im 
pose upon myself certain obligations which might 
be useless or hurtful, and I am afraid not to im 
pose them. 

"St. Paul says we must be contented with the 
measure of grace granted to each one of us. I 
never know whether through a guilty ambition I 
desire to go beyond that, or whether through sloth 
I remain behind it. 

" It may be that in a position so different from 
mine you will not understand these anxieties, and 
if so I congratulate you. I cannot help imagining 
that you enjoy the peace promised to men of good 
will. Still, I think this is not without some pass 
ing troubles. But I am happy when my thoughts 
rest upon you ; it seems to me then that it is a re 
flection of your happiness which reaches me." 

The change was complete and without relapse. 
How was it brought about ? "We were ignorant 
until quite recently, when we met a worthy witness 
of this great and consoling conversion. A spiritual 
son of the Rev. Father Libermann, a missionary of 
the Congregation of the Holy Heart of Mary, re 
turned from Gabon, it appears as if expressly, to 
impart to us what we so greatly desired to know ; 
having now gone back to his dear mission, he con- 



Conversion. 73 

tinues to evangelize the poor negroes of the African 
coast. 

unhappy Guinea!" cried the venerated 
Father Libermann, " it seems to me that you are 
filling up my heart. The misfortunes of those 
poor souls oppress and overwhelm me." In the 
month of September, 1843, he had sent to Guinea 
seven missionaries, who landed at Cape Palmas on 
the 29th of the following November. Three of 
this number were soon carried off by fever or apo 
plexy, and the rest were dispersed by the fury of 
the negroes. It was to fill up those vacancies, or 
rather to commence anew so difficult an enterprise, 
that the Fathers Briot de la Mallerie and Leberre 
went on board the Caiman in the bay of Goree. 
Father Leberre, who alone has survived, and whom 
I saw during his stay in Paris, remembers very 
well Commander Rousse and his lieutenant, Mr. 
Esmangard, the intimate friend of Ensign Clerc. 
Esmangard was a Fourierite, and the other officers 
made profession of indifference or else of incre 
dulity. After being some days at sea they began 
to argue with the missionaries. One of these, Fa 
ther Briot de la Mallerie, had been in the navy, 
and this, added to his strong character, gave him 
some chance of being listened to. None lent a 
more attentive and more sympathetic ear to his 
discourse than the ensign, Alexis Clerc, who was 
always ready to respect convictions. One day, 
having himself engaged in the discussion, he sud 
denly braved his comrade Esmangard, and on the 
deck of the vessel, in presence of the entire staff 



74 Alexis Clerc. 

of officers and all the passengers, he made with, a 
certain solemnity the following declaration : " Af 
ter all, gentlemen, the principles which a Christian 
mother has instilled in the heart of her child are 
the ones which remain most deeply engraven there, 
and are also the ones which are the best." 

"From that moment," continued the Rev. Fa 
ther Laberre, "he seemed to enter on the true 
road of conversion. He asked Father Briot for a 
catechism, doubtless to refresh his memory on the 
principal truths of our holy religion, and to pre 
pare himself to practise it. At the establishment 
of St. Mary in Gabon he made a general confession 
and received Holy Communion. Another officer 
belonging to the Caiman followed his example/ 

Finally a last revelation reaches us unexpectedly, 
and permits us to lay hold of Clerc in the height 
of the struggle, on the eve of his last combat, and 
yet again while he was still quivering from the 
agony he went through before gaining the great 
victory. 

He had in the navy a Christian friend, Claude 
Joubert, a simple ensign, with whom he was inti 
mate on the frigate Charte, which brought them 
both back to France after their first cruise in 
the southern seas. Since then Joubert had left 
the service, not to be idle, but with the thought of 
receiving Holy Orders and of one day consecrating 
himself to the labors of the apostolate. An apostle 
he already was, and he urged his beloved com 
panion to no longer resist grace. For the rest, he 
was one of those sure friends to whom one may 



Conversion. 75 

confide everything. He died at twenty-nine years 
of age, a deacon, bearing to the tomb the secret of 
those intimate conversations which had caused him 
to see a vessel of election in that soul, still the 
slave of flesh and blood, that he strove to conquer 
to Jesus Christ. But he had preserved the letters 
he received from Gabon and other places, and be 
hold ! after thirty years they fall into our hands ; 
they are full of light of a light that illuminates 
the depth of the abyss whence our new convert 
escapes with a joy mingled with fear and astonish* 
ment. 

Clerc wrote for the first time to his friend from 
"In sight of Gabon, December 8, 1846." After 
some details that would be of no interest to the 
reader, he says : " I come at last to thank you for 
your kind letter. How opportunely it arrived I 
how affectionate it is, and how it touches the exact 
spot where I feel my disease ! my dear friend ! 
write to me often, even when you do not receive a 
reply. The great distance, you know, may be the 
cause of this, and I am very sorry to think that 
you have not written since the 30th of May, and 
that you. will not write again until you have re 
ceived this letter. Do not continue this plan, dear 
friend; the utility of your letters makes it your 
duty to send them to me frequently. Show me 
your heart, your struggles, your success. You are 
ahead of me in the good path; you owe me ex 
ample and encouragement. 

" I am on board the steam corvefie Caiman at 
the station on the western coast of Africa. I am 



?6 Alexis Clerc. 

also as happy as possible. The vessel is in per 
fect peace. I am on the best terms with the 
captain, and the lieutenant, who is named Esman- 
gard, is my friend. The men are gently and justly 
governed by the lieutenant ; he is an old friend of 
Desmarets. He has no faiih ; but I shall do so 
much, he has such good qualities. . . . He will re 
ceive it. My dear Joubert, it is idleness that is my 
enemy now. This tranquil happiness enervates 
me. I am tormented, nevertheless I do not rest 
in my idleness without remorse, but I do not find 
strength to will to overcome it ; I am always in 
this cruel dilemma * of not daring to frame for 
myself a rule of conduct, for fear that it might be 
extravagant, or that I would follow it only through 
pride, and of wishing to frame one so that my ef 
forts to be good may be rewarded. I need assis 
tance; I am abandoned, am without direction. I 
beg of you make me a rule ; I promise you I will 
follow it exactly. . . . You. pity such weakness, 
but it is my state. Human respect also restrains 
me. If I were sure of persevering I would not 
mind it ; but I am so weak that I fear a thousand 
falls, and my ostensible efforts would then appear ri 
diculous. Moreover, nowadays people pretend to be 
pious through ambition, and I would die of shame 
if a fault, alas ! only too probable, should justify 
the opinion that I had been looking out for an 
epaulette among the missionaries. All this is 
very trifling, is it not ? But it is just so with me. 

leave this word, although it is improperly used.- 



Author. 



Conversion. 77 

You see I have need of you. I will pray, and per 
haps to-morrow I will have strength to go to the 
missionaries. But send me all the same a rule to 
follow, one compatible with my profession. Jesus 
Christ has promised to be where two or three are 
gathered together in his name. . . . But I 
seek him alone; will he come? Perhaps I am 
wandering in the paths of pride instead of advanc 
ing on the road of charity." 

The first confidences of our young sailor stop 
here; they reveal all the hesitations of his will in 
view of a duty that he regards as certain, and that 
he would be happy to fulfil if he were more sure of 
himself. He continued in this state a long time ; 
it might have been feared that grace, after having 
vainly knocked at the door of his heart, would 
grow weary and abandon him to a false and fatal 
security. "But no, it will not be thus ; God is 
watching over that soul that is really generous but 
sleeping, and he will not deprive himself of the 
glory it will render him when once it is for ever 
attached to his service. 

The entire month passes, and Clerc, returning 
from Gabon, again writes to his friend : 

" JAKUAEY 11, 1847. 

" MY DEAR JOUBEET : Just as I wrote the last 
word of the preceding bheefc I heard a boat being 
gotready. . . . I do not know if I had any merit in it, 
but without stopping to consult myself I made my 
escape to the shore. I went to the priests and I 
confessed on the llth of December. I received 
absolution almost moment for moment twenty- 



yS Alexis Clerc. 

seven years after my birth, * and the same day wo 
sailed. Congratulate me; a difficultstep is taken, 
and it was perhaps your letter which decided me. 
I have since made great efforts to live well, but 
you know how hard it is and how much we need 
help. Still, at sea one is removed from many dan 
gers ; the senses arc in an almost unnatural drowsi 
ness. Truly man is like a stone on the top of a 
mountain ; it is firm on its base, but if it is moved 
little by little, and at last after great exertions 
made to roll over once, it will continue to roll of 
itself, slowly at first ; perhaps it might then be 
possible to stop it ; but soon its course is impetu 
ous ; no obstacles can arrest it ; it passes over them 
with prodigious bounds which augment its velocity 
yet more ; it bruises, it drags after it all it en 
counters ; it precipitates itself as with an ever-in 
creasing fury even into the depths of the abyss. 
Joubert ! let my lamentable experience serve 
you as an example ; may it be one to me ! I feel 
that I have not the strength meanwhile to resist 
such a trial as my imagination pictures ; T pray 
earnestly for help, and I endeavor to distract my 
mind from those phantoms. 

" A youth passed in all sorts of excesses is a very 
great misfortune. You have no knowledge of those 
phantoms which have so long pursued me ; I owe 
it only to God s grace that I am less frequently be- 

* Clerc thought he was born on the llth of December, and 
that is the day he had inscribed in tbe Catalogue of the Pro 
vince of France as the date of his birth. But we see from the 
registry of his baptism, and from his record of service, that 
he was born on the 12th. 



Conversion. 79 

set by them. When I cast my eyes behind me I 
am soon obliged to withdraw my gaze. What I 
ask of tenest and most earnestly of God is to have a 
horror of evil, to weep over my past ; I have not 
yet obtained it. 

" You see, my dear Joubert, how worthy of pity 
my condition is. It seems to me that if it were 
necessary to die for my salvation I would not hesi 
tate, yet I live with apprehension. What a crea 
ture man is ! It is easier, then, for him to sacrifice 
his life than to deny his passions. Solitude is often 
fatal, society almost always so. Would you be 
lieve that it is impossible for me to spend one day 
witHout speaking ill of somebody ? I know how 
strongly evil-speaking is forbidden, but it is so 
common a topic that one must condemn one s self 
to an absolute silence to avoid falling into it. 

" I cannot understand charity. I do not know 
how to love a man filled with faults ; it is 
difficult to detest the faults and to love the man 
who delights in them. The remedy would be to 
judge nobody, but that is still more impracticable. 
I search diligently, but I cannot find in myself any 
possible solution of the problem. How can we 
avoid judging actions which strike us, sentiments 
which people take pleasure in revealing to us ? I 
know that I am myself full of faults, that I cherish 
a multitude of guilty sentiments in which I de 
light, but this does not influence my judgment of 
others ; certainly if I had to condemn, it would ren 
der me indulgent, and I think I would never con 
demn. 



8o Alexis Clerc. 

But not to judge and think : that is good or 
that is lad, is beyond me I cannot help it; 
neither can I help thinking : that man is bad, 
sensual, dishonest, etc. Oh ! if the yoke is easy 
and the burden light, it is also very true that the 
road is rough and narrow." 

Finally, on the 20th of January, before sealing 
his letter, Clerc added these few words: "I take 
advantage of an unexpected opportunity of send 
ing you this letter, but it leaves a crowd of things 
still unsaid. Since the llth I have received letters 
from France. God s hand is revealing itself tome, 
dear Joubert. My brother has returned to the 
bosom of the Church and has communicated. . . . 
I have had a fit of the most intense aversion for 
the sea. I am unsettled. If this continuance of 
aversion is a sign from God to quit the profession, I 
am ready ; but I do not ^ant to quit it as a coward 
that is to say, from human motives. Enlighten 
me, and pray for me. 

" Adieu, dear and faithful friend ! Pray for an 
unfortunate who is very often shaken by circum 
stances, and much tormented by his own heart. I 
embrace you. A. C." 

It was something admirable ; being once entered 
on that narrow way which he had approached but 
with fear and trembling, Clerc did not again fall 
back, as he had so much dreaded, and as had 
seemed inevitable to him when he considered only 
his own weakness of which he had had, still quite 
recently, a sad but final experience. The danger 
ous images of his past, the odious phantoms which 



Conversion. 8 1 

haunted him, vanished in the light of the Sun of 
Righteousness, and with unspeakable joy he re 
cognized the truth of the divine Master s words: 
"Come to me, all you that labor and are bur 
dened, and I will refresh you. Take up my yoke 
upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek and 
humble of heart, and you shall have rest to your 
souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light " 
(St. Matt. xi. 28-30). 



CHAPTEE III. 

ALEXIS PROGRESS IN THE CHRISTIAN LIFE SERVICE Oi* 
SHORE L ORIENT. INDRET, BREST. 

KETUKNED to France in the summer of 1847, 
Alexis is another man ; his old companions, wit 
nesses of so unexpected a transformation, do not 
in the least understand it and cannot believe their 
eyes. Is it some strange eccentricity ? Is it a jest, 
a wager ? Is he truly in his right senses, and how 
long will it last ? 

But he declares to them that it is a very serious 
matter, and that, with the grace of God, he will 
never change again. His neophyte s fervor recalls 
the cry of Polyeucte on coming forth from his 
baptism : 

" Aliens, mon cher Ne*arque, aliens aux yeux des hommes 
Braver 1 idolatrie et moutrer qui nous sommes."* 

Alas ! in the Paris of the nineteenth century the 
cry, I am a Christian ! still astonishes many pagan 
ears and excites the rage of persecutors ; and 
Clerc was one day to learn something of this. 
Meanwhile he passed for a fool, or at least for a great 
singularity, among people who had seen him as 
much a stranger as themselves to all religious 

* Let us go, my dear Nearcbus, let us go in the sight of men 
to defy idolatry and show who we are. 



Service on Shore. 83 

thoughts. In his eyes the folly was in not believing 
in Jesus Christ and in not walking in his foot 
steps ; he explained himself on the subject with a 
sharpness of expression well suited to disconcert 
those to whom his new mode of life appeared un 
reasonable, and who came to sound his dispositions 
with more of malicious curiosity than of interest 
and sympathy. 

On one occasion he was met by an old com 
panion, since become captain of a frigate and an 
assistant professor at the Polytechnic School ; a man 
of much spirit, but a sceptic and greatly puzzled 
at such a change. " What is this report, my dear 
Clerc, about your having turned Jesuit ?" Clerc 
was not yet a Jesuit, but we know what the word 
means on the lips of those who are not even Chris 
tians. " Yes, of course * I have, as every man of 
heart and intelligence would if he were not an igno 
ramus." This was his answer, and " Clerc s tone, 
gesture, and eyes were sudh that I saw there was 
no chance for discussion ; I left him, promising 
myself never to return." 

If he had always answered in this manner he 
would not have effected many conversions. For 
tunately, in time he acquired more control of 
himself, not without effort, but with a merit as 
much greater as this slightly rude frankness was 
natural to his character. 

He had a little circle of friends in Paris to whom 
his conversion, so long waited for, was a subject of 

* Of course is not in the original. Author. 



84 Alexis Clerc. 

much joy. The best of these was his brother 
Jules, who became at the same time as himself a 
fervent Catholic. Both brothers had from child 
hood been friends with a valiant writer who had 
early consecrated his pen to the triumph of reli 
gion, and whose home was radiant with the loveli 
est virtues united in the person of a distinguished 
wife whom God had brought to a knowledge of bis 
law by extraordinary ways. Mr. and Madame de 

S (discretion forbids us to name them more 

plainly) were friends in the fullest sense, and as they 
followed the inspirations of faith in everything, 
they celebrated in the holiest manner, by joining 
him at the sacred banquet, the return of this pro 
digal son to his Father s house. 

Mr. Jules Clerc had confided the care of his soul 
to the Abbe de la Bouillerie, then Vicar-General 
of Paris, and since successively Bishop of Car 
cassonne and Coadjutor of Bordeaux. But one of 
the brothers could not have a friend or a guide 
who was not also the friend and guide of the 
other ; therefore, after a short stay in Paris which 
sufficed to acquaint him with the valua of such a 
friendship, Alexis testified for the Abbe de la 
Bouillerie the same affection and filial confidence 
as if he had always been his spiritual son. 

He was not inclined to forget the faithful Jou- 
bert, his first guide and Ins model in the generous 
accomplishment of all the obligations of Chris 
tianity. What had become of that dear companion, 
of whom he had not heard since his departure from 
Gabon ? He did not know, but supposed he was 



Service on Shore. 85 

still with his family at Pont-de-Vaux * (Depart 
ment of Ain). It was there that he addressed a let 
ter to him on the 27th of August, 1847, being him 
self at Lorient and still on the Caiman, for he had 
spent but a very short time in Paris : 

"All my efforts now tend to becoming Christian 
and to loving God very much. I ought not to talk 
to you of my efforts, because, in truth, I am very 
inert, without either courage or perseverance. I 
am like a ship disabled, but God, who has been so 
good as to recall me to himself, will make this poor 
hulk drift towards the surest port. But I should 
aid myself according to my means, and I do very 
little. I must tell you what he has done for me 
lately. You know me, dear friend, and you know 
that I have a restless nature, active enough, not 
profound at all, and tolerably inconstant. You 
know also what this life on shipboard is unoccu 
pied and trifling, leaving the whole day for idle 
dreaming. I was very uneasy about being in such 
a life, especially with the privation of a church 
added to it. I believe that it is really dangerous. 
During our last voyage I kept a sort of diary, wrote 
almost every day all my disquietudes, all my fears, 
and all my thoughts, so that I think I made a pretty 
exact likeness of myself. My plan was to give the 
manuscript to some priest, who might from read 
ing it be able immediately to advise and help me. 
The life we sailors lead is so uncertain that it is 

* Pont-de-Vaux was the native place of General Jouberfc, 
and our Claude Joubert was one of the nephews of that illus 
trious soldier. 



86 Alexis Cltrc. 

prudent for us to get the start of opportunities. 
But it was necessary to find a priest. My brother 
sent me to see Ms director. I did not wait to con 
sider ; I gave him my papers, and the good God 
has permitted me to find him one of the best and 
most intelligent of men. He is. the Abbe de la 
Bouillerie, the first vicar of the Archbishop of 
Paris. I did not know him at all, and I could not 
have made a better choice. He inspires me with 
as much affection as respect. I only regret that, 
busy as he is, I must increase his burden of cares ; 
yet I take a kind of egotistical pleasure in being 
allowed to 

" I do not feel in a mood to talk to you any 
longer now. Consider this as a mere announce 
ment of ruy arrival. Inform me of all that con 
cerns you, and rely upon my haste in answering 
your letter. I am at present at Lorient on board 
the Caiman. 

" I need a great deal of help. I recommend 
myself to your prayers. A. C." 

When this letter reached Joubert he had already 
said good-by to the world, and was residing no 
longer with his family, but at the Seminary of ISFV 
near Paris ; he had commenced at Issy the studies 
which, continued the following year at the Semi 
nary of St. Sulpice, were to prepare him for the 
reception of holy orders. We may judge of his 
joy at seeing Clerc so well started on the right road. 
Clerc had begun his letter by saying : " You con 
tributed to my conversion. I shall never forget 
you." To inform his beloved comrade of the sue- 



Service on Shore. 87 

cessful issue of his yocation, to talk to him of the 
happiness of retreat, of the spiritual delights of the 
seminary life, of his venerated directors, of his new 
studies, which nourished his soul while enlighten 
ing his mind, and were in this so different from the 
proud science of the world ; then to make it a duty 
to find for him at Lorient a new guide, if possible 
another Abbe de la Bouillerie such was the first 
inspiration of Claude Joubert, and he succeeded in 
it all beyond his hopes. We would here say a 
word in praise of this holy young man, of whom 
the Seminary of St. Sulpice had but a glimpse ; 
his memory has not entirely disappeared from there, 
and one of the present directors,* who was his fel 
low-seminarian, tells us that if he had lived he 
would certainly have made a zealous priest. Hum 
ble, modest, reserved, perfectly faithful to the 
rules, he spoke little of his past, and it was scarcely 
known in the circle of his intimate companions 
that he had had the experience of a cruise in the 
Southern seas. 

In the beginning of September, Clerc, at last 
off the Caiman, was attached to the Superintend 
ence of the port of Lorient. It was his first station 
on the coast of Brittany. During the three years 
following he had no fixed residence, his duties 
calling him by turns to Brest, to Saint Nazaire, to 
Paimbceuf, and to Indret, not to speak of several 
short voyages on the Caffarelli, the Caravane, and 
the Duguesclin. The reader would take little in- 

+ The Abb< Sire. 



88 Alexis Clerc. 

terest in accompanying the young officer in these 
different wanderings. The special service in which 
he was employed on the steamer Pelican is of a 
little more consequence, and we shall have a word 
to say about it at the proper time. The great ad 
vantage which he found in these various situations 
was having time to recollect himself, and to de 
vote himself, un distracted by worldly matters, to 
prayer, study, and good works. 

A letter, dated Lorient, September 17, 1847, and 
addressed to his brother Jules, puts before our 
eyes, so to speak, the first effort of his zeal, and 
shows us a discernment not at all to be expected 
from so inexperienced a missionary, It relates to a 
friend we will call him Alphonse whom his bro 
ther and Mr. de S , together with himself, were 

laboring to bring back to the right path, and to 
whom they had recommended Pascal s Pensees " 
and La Bruyere s chapter on " Les Esprits Forts." 
Alexis disapproved the choice of this reading, 
which he judged would produce but little effect, 
and he endeavored to gain his two auxiliaries to 
his view of the case. 

"It is very true that Pascal s Pensees which 
first opened the way to me, and the chapter on 
Les Esprits Forts which I read shortly after, 
are books I regard as very good and very for 
cible, which I have no intention of attacking, and 
which, on the contrary, I am ready to defend. But 
the Pensees are difficult of comprehension, and, 
it seems to me, would make no impression on a 
mind that was not reflective. And I believe that, 



Service on Shore, 89 

taking in a mass those of them which Alphonse 
would read and understand, those he would read 
without understanding, and those he would not 
read at all, and regarding the impulse that now 
animates him, the whole would form a very foggy 
cloud, which would flee away behind him without 
his so much as glancing at it once again. The 
chapter on Les Esprits Forts, I agree that he 
will be able to read it through without skipping ; 
it is malicious and vivacious enough to interest him. 
But, thank God ! Alphonse cannot be placed in La 
Bruyere s category of strong minds. 

"Alphonse is neither a strong mind nor a scep 
tic. Alphonse and you can tell him so from 
me belongs to none of the philosophical cate 
gories. His philosophy consists in having no 
philosophy, because philosophy is a bore, and his 
chief business is to be bored as little as possible. 
Do not address yourself to his mind to convince 
it ; it is already convinced. The only thing is, he 
does not want to think of the matter, and he suc 
ceeds tolerably well. Supposing that you should 
convince him, have you not seen him a hundred 
times perfectly convinced, fully decided upon a 
resolution which he has not even tried to put in 
practice ? But tell him, and repeat it over and 
over again, that if he is without force, strength, 
there is a way to acquire it, that he must ask for it. 
He knows where the good is, but he has not 
strength to desire it. Tell him to ask for that 
strepg h. It is not his mind he must conquer ; it 
is his passions. Be persistent in inducing him to 



90 Alexis Cler.c. 

make little sacrifices ; help Mm when he does well, 
encourage him ; do not leave him long to himself. 
Say nothing of what there may be, at the com 
mencement, sad in religion ; be as gay and as 
agreeable as possible ; let him see that religion has 
sweet joys, permitted pleasures ; and take special 
care to pay him, as far as you can, with a reward 
for every sacrifice you obtain from him. Finally, 
let him feel that to become a Christian is not to 
die. You will accomplish nothing with argumen 
tative blows ; you will do everything by attentions, 
by persistence, and by making him feel the 
sweetness of lawful pleasures. In conclusion, my 
dear Jules, remind him of what I told him to en 
grave on his memory. 

"I cannot conceal from you that I consider 
your task a very heavy one ; but you have good 
courage, and G-od will assist you. 

" I say all this not to vex you, which I would 
not for the world. If you are not convinced that 
I am right about the matter, there is always for a 
consulter that unfortunate Abbe de la Bouillerie 
who made in us acquaintances very fatal to his 
peace and quiet." 

Alexis letter to his brother Jules terminates with 
the following recommendation : 

" I ought to have spoken to you of an old friend 
of mine, an old pupil of the Polytechnic School and 
a midshipman with me on board the Charte, who has 
laid aside the cuirass and taken up the hair-cloth. 
This worthy young fellow is at St. Sulpice, and I 
knew nothing about it. I much regret not having 



Service on Shore. 91 

seen him, and I commission you to make his ac 
quaintance ; I think ifc will be an advantage to you. 
His name is Claude Jouberfc. He will be at Issy, 
at the seminary, until the 10th of October, and 
after that date at the Seminary St. Sulpice inParisl 
You will oblige me by delivering my letter to Jou- 
bert yourself. " 

These are the contents of Alexis letter to his old 
comrade : 

" I was severely punished for my delay in writ 
ing to you by being ignorant that I could see you 
while I was in Paris. The occasions of our meet 
ing will perhaps be so rare that I deeply regret the 
one I have let slip. It is sweet to me, it would 
have been useful to me to see "you in peace and at 
study. You have worked a good deal ; the numer 
ous quotations in your letter prove this. What a 
charming work that must be which initiates us 
into such grand sentiments, into such grand ideas ! 
And are we not to be pitied for having so long 
worn ourselves out with working at useless things ? 
My dear Joubert, you have preceded me in the nar 
row, way ; you have had the happiness of breaking 
with the world ; be sure to always remember and 
pity me. I am very often afraid of seeking to 
serve tivo masters at once ; I wish I could be able 
once and for ever to reject the tyrant and keep the 
father. I wish the impossible, . . . the binding of 
my will irrevocably to the good. Living in the* 
world, temptations may present themselves in so 
many expected or unexpected ways that we need 
still more help from G-od to save us from falling ; 



92 Alexis Clerc. 

and yet in the activity of our life how difficult it is 
to find the recollection of prayer ! The danger is 
especially great, it seems to me, because it is com 
posed of many very little dangers which we do not 
sufficiently dread, and our negligence in avoiding 
them causes us to fall into a state of languor 
wherein we no longer feel the help of grace, and 
are no longer worthy of it. Conversation particu 
larly is a snare of this sort, especially to talka 
tive persons whose petty vanity enjoys intensely 
the success of a well-said and well-placed word. 
Those who love to hear themselves talk and who 
are willingly listened to, are very apt to talk non 
sense. 

" I believe I told you how useful the letter I re 
ceived from you at Gabon was to me. Your last 
also arrived very opportunely ; let this encourage 
you not to be lazy about writing. I made haste to 
find the Abbe Stevant ; I spent nearly two hours 
with him, and the time was well employed. Please 
thank the Abbe Pinault * for the excellent ac 
quaintance he has procured me. I know Father 
Pinault by name through a little scientific dispute 
which Bertrand f had with him on the subject of 
a chapter of his Treatise on the Differential Cal 
culus. I am very gra f eful to him for being in 
terested in my conversion, and for the service he 
has just rendered me, and I ask of him the per- 

* Director at the Seminary of Issy. He was a distinguished 
mathematician, formerly professor of th? University and mas 
ter of the conferences at the Superior Normal School. 

t Mr. Joseph Bertrand, now one of the perpetual secretaries 
of the Academy of Sciences. 



Service on Shore. 93 

mission, of which I shall avail myself when God 
wills, to call to thank him in person. 

" The Abbe Stevant appears to well deserve the 
title of l holy priest which you give him. It is 
touching to see these men of God blot out their 
personality so completely that they never speak of 
themselves directly or indirectly ; they belong en 
tirely to others ; one might say that their souls 
could not go to be united to God, except they were 
carried by those they have aided, encouraged, and 
guided to a happy end. This is by way of telling 
you that I was most cordially received. I was just 
then in great perplexity, and, thanks to Abbe Ste 
vant, I am relieved of it. He seemed to me, on that 
point which I found difficult, not less intelligent 
and enlightened than kind and devoted. 

"I got him to describe to me a day at Saint Sul- 
pice. He is overflowing with pleasant memories 
of that house, and regards the days he spent there 
as the happiest of his life. You also tell me that 
you have never tasted so much happiness, I 
believe full well that what I know of it is indeed 
happiness, but I must congratulate you on receiv 
ing strength to bear up under so prolonged a strain 
on the mind. A single hour of rest during the 
day would be insufficient amid such serious and 
difficult studies, if you had not the advantage of 
finding in your frequent visits to the chapel re 
freshment and assistance to temper you again, as 
Abbe Stevant expresses it. It is a great happiness 
to pray from the fulness of one s heart, to be im 
patient at being prevented from praying, not to 



94 Alexis Clerc. 

have to oblige one s self to pray by saying : It is 
the hour ; I must pray. To know how to pray is 
to pray with attraction, to pray with love. We 
must love in order to pray, we must pray in order 
to love it is a veritable circle ; it has neither be 
ginning nor end, and we cannot move around it 
unless we have received a good initial impulse to 
determine our motion, and unless we experience 
the centripetal force that makes us describe it. 
. . . My comparison is not a very happy one, but 
it is very certain that we can neither love nor pray 
unless God gives us the power. The whole thing 
is perhaps the history of the ten talents which in 
the hands of the diligent steward increased a hun 
dred-fold. At first we receive grace to pray a lit 
tle, and if we make good use of our capital we 
gain power to love a little more, and consequently 
to pray better, and so on. Oh ! to love God is the 
great thing." 

Clerc still feared at this time to be overcome by 
despair if he should have the misfortune of falling 
again into his old faults ; he frankly acknowledges 
this to his friend, while promising to remember 
that in the most extreme cases there always remains 
to the sinner a plank of salvation. Finally he 
speaks of his studies ; he has undertaken to read 
St. Thomas of Aquin. " It is difficult for me, less 
because it is written in Latin than on account of 
its being full of the philosophy of Aristotle, of 
which I am perfectly ignorant. But I shall succeed 
in going through it, I hope. 

" To conclude," he adds, "I announce to you 



Service on Shore. 95 

that I have engaged my brother Jules to call upon 
you. I am sure you will be pleased with him ; it 
is not possible to find a better creature ; he helps 
everybody, loves everybody, and forgets only him- 
se ; f ; he is a good Christian, of a rather fresh date 
like myself, but he has nicely improved his time. 
His is a simple and upright heart ; I do not think 
he is very philosophical, but he loves God and his 
neighbor a great deal. As for me, I find that he 
loves me a little too well. 

I^shall soon be deprived of Abbe Stevant, who 
starts for Henries Sunday morning. 

" If you want to know about my position, my 
brother will tell you. Adieu. A. C." 

At Lorient Clerc found another comrade, Mr. 

C , belonging also to the navy, but who at that 

time in his religious ideas was where our new con 
vert was when he left the Polytechnic School. 

"He came to see me," said Mr. C , when we 

asked for his reminiscences, " to resume, or rather 
to begin, our acquaintance. At the very first he 
told me of his conversion. The news was so unex 
pected that I did not believe it, taking it for some 
pleasantry or jest, the point of which I could not 
understand. At last, however, I was convinced 
that he spoke seriously. From our professional 
relations there soon sprang sympathy and friend 
ship, and we spent together till the close of 1847 
several very agreeable months which I have always 
liked to remember." 

The reader will guess that he who speaks thus is 
now a Christian. He attributes the happy change 



96 Alexis Clerc. 

to his friend s influence in a great degree. But his 
conversion was only completed much later, and we 
shall see with what ingenious zeal, with what pas 
sionate ardor, Clerc was still laboring for it, with 
out ever losing courage, several years after his en 
trance into the Society of Jesus. 

Mr. C introduces us to the solitary and stu 
dious life in which Clerc found such pleasure at 
Lorient, and which must have seemed very unna 
tural to those who were acquainted with his social 
character and his old habits of dissipation. " I had 
rented," this faithful witness tells us, " in common 
with another friend, a little house and garden in 
a suburb of Lorient. After the business of the day 
was over we were accustomed to go there to spend 
a few hours and breathe the fresh air. Clerc, being 
added to our society, found the garden pleasant, 
and, having no active service just then, he installed 
himself in the little house. There he devoted all 
his time to meditation and study. To our great 
astonishment he-read the " Summa " of St. Thomas 
from morning till night ; but for all that he did 
not show himself less gay or less amiable when we 
went out to pass a few hours with him. I greatly 
admired his virtue, his firm convictions, his aspi 
rations towards the good, and his contempt for the 
things of this world. Notwithstanding that, all 
the efforts he made to win us over did not in the 
least succeed, and despite our affection for him, 
and the harmony of our intercourse, we considered 
him a little cracked. The summer ended, winter 
came, and we returned to the city ; we continued 



Service on Shore. 97 

to spend our evenings together. Olerc was always 
gay and charming, I fearless and earnest in dis 
cussing all that either nearly or remotely concern 
ed religion ; therefore we had opportunities of re 
proaching his intolerance and refusing to take his 
sermons seriously. But his gayety and good nature 
always prevented any bitter feeling among us." 

What did these little railleries matter to Olerc ? 
He would have borne many more for the cause 
which be loved ; and, besides, be knew bow to re 
gard the dispositions of his friends. A glance at 
his own past sufficed to teach him not to despair 
of those who put themselves on the defensive, and 
are even tolerably aggressive, as soon as they are 
spoken to about religion. 

The reader has remarked this fact : Olerc already 
studied the "Summa" of St. Thomas, With 
what object ? Had he then, scarcely converted, 
ideas of an ecclesiastical vocation ? Oh ! no ; he 
did not look so far ahead, and he would have been 
greatly surprised if any one had told him that he 
would one day be sitting on the benches of a theo 
logical school. But this is what was in his mind : 
Having become a Christian, and this seriously, he 
deemed it quite natural, if not necessary, to give 
the first place in the cultivation of his mind to the 
most beautiful and the most important of all 
sciences the one which has for its object God and 
the soul, our duties here below, the assistance God 
gives us to fulfil them, and the reward he reserves 
for our fidelity. But how should he learn that 
science of which he felt himself so ignorant even 



98 Alexis Clerc. 

after the serious readings that had led the way to 
his conversion ? Preoccupied with this thought 
one day it was before he left Paris he met an 
ecclesiastic in the street. He immediately ap 
proached him, and, lifting his hat, said : " Par 
don, reverend sir ; allow me just one word in pass 
ing. Be good enough to tell me the name of the 
author who has written the best on religion." St. 
Thomas Aquinas," was the reply. " And in which 
work, if you please?" "In his Theological 
Summa. " " Thank you a thousand times." Clerc 
again saluted the priest, and made all haste to 
procure the " Summa" of St. Thomas. 

At first he found it pretty difficult reading ; his 
university philosophy had poorly prepared him to 
understand that grand and profound scholastic. 
However, he did not allow himself to he discou 
raged, and little by little he familiarized himself 
with a language and a method so novel to him. 

This may seem strange, but it was his way, and 
all who have ever lived with him will recognize 
him by this characteristic. Moreover, we are giv 
ing here the personal recollections of a venerable 
priest who was his director the following year, 
and who adds, speaking with a full knowledge of 
his subject : " That diligent study of St. Thomas 
was later of great use to him in the conversions he 
undertook, and in which it was my privilege to co 
operate." 

It was no easy matter to induce his father to 
accept this new direction of his ideas, and especially 
these excursions into the domain of theology, a 



Service on Shore. 99 

country which he esteemed to be peopled with chi 
meras, and knew only through the descriptions 
given sometimes by the fine writers of the Siecle, in 
which his confidence was extreme. 

Mr. Clerc enquired if his son did not intend to 
resume his plan, pursued before his voyage to Ga 
bon, of entering Public Instruction, or at least of 
securing admittance to that career by taking the 
degree of doctor of sciences. Called upon to ex 
plain himself, Alexis did so with his usual frank* 
ness : "You have asked me, dear father, if I purpose 
carrying out the plan I started on two years ago of 
having myself dubbed a doctor. I think no more 
about it. You know that there remained for me, 
in order to receive the degree, to propose and sus 
tain a thesis ; therefore I shall neither gain nor 
lose anything by letting the project rest just where 
it is as long as I desire, and I am not anxious to 
pursue it. Many of the reasons that urged me no 
longer exist. I no longer propose to leave the 
navy, and I should do so regretfully if circum 
stances almost obliged me. Do you remember 
when I was with Mr. de S ? * I tried all sorts 
of trades, and found in each such difficulties that 
I abandoned it directly ; it is just the same with 
the one I have now, but the next would be the 
same too. Decidedly, instead of changing a condi 
tion to find one to suit his character better, it is 
more reasonable in a man when he is already fixed 
to accommodate himself to circumstances. It is 

*Not the intimate friend designated by the same initial. 
This gentleman was the head of an institution. 



loo Alexis Clerc. 

the deceitful hope of a happiness that does not 
exist which is the source of so much useless agita 
tion. You will, perhaps, think me ridiculous 
enough to consider as a fortunate discovery of mine 
these good, plain truths, which are so simple as to 
almost belong to common sense. However, I did 
not find them out all alone ; they are among the 
happy secrets I have learned the past year. 

" Why should I not speak to you openly ? 
Since a year ago I am a devotee ; for the space of 
a year I have made it my whole study to learn and 
practise our religion. Having so much of my 
time unoccupied by my duties as a sailor, I con 
sider that I am under obligations to instruct 
myself in this most important matter ; and this, 
my dear father, is why the # s are left perfectly 
tranquil, and why I live with huge worm-eaten 
Latin books of the Middle Ages. I do not tell 
you that this is very attractive ; no, it is even 
sometimes very wearisome ; but all sciences are the 
same the elemen ts of them are tedious. Neverthe 
less I love this study, and it has already afforded 
me more pleasure than all the others I have pur 
sued." 

Thus, ideas of faith, the sentiment of duty ful 
filled without pleasure or attraction, fixed him in 
his career of a sailor a career to which we shall 
see him growing more and more attached with an 
austere and disinterested love, until the day when 
he will feel himself imperiously called to a holier 
vocation, Ruled by this sentiment of faith, he will 
persevere in the studies he has undertaken, not 



Service on Shore. 101 

only while his service on shore assures him 
abundant leisure, but also during those remote ex 
pedition* when the cares of a commander would 
have sufficed him for occupation if he had not had 
the matter so much at heart. In fact, the "Sum- 
ma " of St. Thomas of Aquin had become his night 
ly companion. Twenty years later it was worth 
while hearing him talk of the Angelic Doctor. 
With the understanding of his doctrine, attraction, 
liking, had come, then enthusiasm; his admira 
tion was not cooled by being enlightened, and 
nothing equalled his respect for the decisions of 
that prince of theologians. 

Meanwhile the reading of St. Thomas, engaging 
as it had become for him, did not make him lose 
his ground in other things ; far from that, he took 
more interest than before in his profession of a 
sailor, and if he happened to meet among his fel 
lows or his superiors an officer of merit from whom 
there was good reason to expect great usefulness in 
the service of his country, he was so delighted that 
he eould scarcely eontain himself. He had this 
good fortune the following year (1848) on board 
the Caffarelli) a ship which, notwithstanding its 
favorable record, had to be put under repair on 
account of certain faults of construction. The 
Caffarelli, a steam frigate, was subject to the 
orders of Commander Mallet, a friend and rela 
tive of Madame Pages, and consequently well dis 
posed towards our ensign, who had from earliest 
childhood been intimate with the Pages family. 
But there was among the officers of the Caffarelli 



IO2 Alexis Clerc. 

another who gained Alexis esteem and affection 
at the very first. As this officer has since fully 
corresponded to the promise he gave while as yet 
only captain of a corvette, we will copy from a 
confidential correspondence a few lines that refer 
to him, judging that they will not be without in 
terest, or even profit, to men of the same profession 
who may chance to read them : 

" We have on board the Caffarelli a real gem. 
He is the Captain (of a corvette) Didelot, now 
acting as lieutenant-commander ; * one of those 
men of upright, keen, and strong character who 
join to their intrinsic worth a gift of fascination 
which nobody can resist. As soon as one knows 
them one esteems and loves them. As the ship is 
and will be managed by him, it is a real happiness 
for us to have him. I will give you an example of 
the way he understands the service. You know 
that on a Government vessel each division of the 
labor is under the special direction of an officer. 
One has the artillery, another the rigging, a third 
the helm ; the care of the hull and the arrangemenfc 
of the supplies belong to another. My lot on the 
Caffarelli is the engine. On many vessels things 
are fixed so only in name, and in reality it is the 
lieutenant commander "who does all the work. 
On other vessels each officer attends to his charge 
in obedience to the orders of the commander and 
the lieutenant. It is so on our ship. There 
would be nothing unusual in this if the lieutenant 

* Admiral Baron Didelot is now President of the Board of 
Naval Works. 



Service on Shore. 103 

commander had not asked me for a plan of ap 
pointing the men for the engine, a plan for the 
use of the engine itself, and a plan of a journal of 
the engine. It is very clear that this does not bind 
him to anything, and that he will do in these dif 
ferent respects whatever he pleases ; but it is also 
clear that if he judges and decides questions, as is 
his right and duty, he does it only after having 
considered the suggestions he may receive from all 
quarters. The officers will naturally be led to take 
interest in the general welfare, since they have been 
consulted as to its direction. This is in my opin 
ion an intelligent method of acting which cannot 
be in the least prejudicial to authority, and the 
result of which will be the improvement of the 
thing itself and the satisfaction of the officers." 

It seems to us that this is not bad reasoning, and 
that our ensign was being well prepared for a wise 
and firm exercise of authority. Thus was being 
formed in him the accomplished sailor, the skilful 
officer understanding both men and his profession, 
while he was at the same time growing daily into 
the perfect Christian whose only ambition was to 
live and die for Jesus Christ. 

Let us look through his letters to his brother 
Jules, letters in which he poured out his soul, 
thus leaving us unconsciously a picture of his in 
terior and a history of his spiritual life ; in this 
way we will assist at his progress in the practice of 
Christian perfection, and may we profit by his gene 
rous example, as well as by the precious counsels 
which the tenderest and most devoted fraternal 



IO4 Alexis Clerc. 

friendship inspired him to give when the oppor 
tunity offered. 

His brother had suffered some (I know not what) 
wholly unexpected disappointment that had greatly 
disturbed his soul. Alexis congratulates him on 
this trial, which he regards as a mark of God s favor, 
but he amicably blames him for not having had re 
course at the very first to the true physician and 
the true remedy : " When we find ourselves in your 
case, and when all possible efforts have been made ; 
when we fail by the result of circumstances quite 
beyond our control ; when we have used to the ut 
most all human means, it is Almighty God who has 
decided the matter. We must gracefully submit ; 
there is even real cause to congratulate ourselves 
that he has deigned to try us, for he exactly pro 
portions the crown of triumph to the difficulty of 
the combat. The only thing to be regretted is 
that yon did not go immediately to the Abbe de la 
Bouillerie, who would very soon have consoled you. 
A man does not go to the doctor when he is well, 
and it is especially when he is not at peace wioh 
himself that he should seek the ministers of peace. 
If we went to them only when we were perfectly 
joyful we would never go. If we avoid the priests 
in our soul-diseases, it is either because we are 
ashamed to manifest them or we hope to cure our 
selves better alone. All these are snares which we 
must guard against. I do not tell you this because 
I regard your silence towards Abbe de la Bouiilerie 
as a very grave fault, I tell it only in a general way. 
As is my custom, I seize by the hair all oppor- 



Service on Shore. 105 

tunities of preaching. I know well that you have 
been pressed by a thousand different matter?, and 
that you have not had leisure to look well into 
your heart. And then you are afraid of troubling 
Abbe de la Bouillerie. . . . This last is not com 
mon sense, first because Abbe de la Bouillerie loves 
you deeply and you do not annoy him, and second 
ly because if even you should annoy him he would 
very quickly tell you that he is not at his post to be 
amused, and that he would prefer that you should 
visit him too often rather than not often enough." 

Behold the idea he had already formed of the 
sacred ministry and of the duties it imposes ! Let 
us say it to the honor of the French clergy that it 
is thus regarded by all good priests, and they are 
not rare, thank God ! Clerc had experience of 
this during the whole time he spent on the coast of 
Brittany; everywhere he met excellent priests, who 
were at the same time the fathers of his soul and 
his devoted friends, and it is owing to the kindness 
of several of them whom we did not apply to in 
vain, that we have been able to discover here and 
there traces of our hero in spite of his frequent 
changes of residence occasioned by the necessities 
of the service. 

About that time, probably in 1848, he made a 
retreat at La Trappe de la Meilleraie, and it was 
doubtless there that the possibility of a sacerdotal 
vocation began for the first time to dawn upon him. 
At least we infer this from his reflections upon the 
choice of a state of life in a letter to his brother, 
whose future was not yet entirely fixed. 



io6 Alexis Clerc. 

"My dear Jules, the choice of a career is one 
of the most important things a man can be called 
upon to do. Very few persons have it in their 
power to exchange one for another. Yet it is 
generally very seldom that a man is satisfied with 
the one chosen at first ; I will say more, it is sel 
dom that he has reason to be. And if the career 
you have embraced is not suitable for you, you are 
vowed to unprofitable tribulations without allevia 
tion and without result. Let us put aside all that 
arises from a fickle disposition or from exaggerated 
desires of happiness. The cause of these bad selec 
tions is that we make them without God. Instead 
of weighing the pecuniary advantages, the har 
monies with our taste and capacity, vain and fleet 
ing things ! we should have no other object in view 
save the supreme one, our eternal life. This life is 
but the portal, the other is the temple. If, ridding 
ourselves of all ambitious desires, of all desire of 
fortune, of all self-pleasing, we regard our career 
as the way by whicli we are to go to God, as the 
means of pleasing him in this life, of lending our 
selves to the part he has imposed upon us, and 
which we must perform with hearty good-will in 
order to carry out the harmony of his eternal plans ; 
and if, in our ignorance of what this part is, we 
beg him with confidence and submission to make 
it known to us, he will certainly do so. My good 
Jules, you and I have acted differently, and many 
others with us. Therefore our choice is certainly 
bad, not perhaps because we both of us have an 
employment other than the one God intended for 



Service on Shore. 107 

us, for it is in his providence to use even the de 
praved will of man for his perfect ends, and it 
belongs to him to draw good out of evil itself ; but 
our choice is bad on account of the motives which 
determined us to it." 

After entering into certain considerations en 
tirely personal, he concludes by exhorting his bro 
ther to serve God at any cost, and to ask of him 
the means of succeeding in doing this. " This is 
all, and the rest is nothing. I do not need to tell 
you that no matter with what energy we search for 
happiness, we will not find it outside of God. His 
purpose will always be accomplished, whether we 
desire it or no ; all our wisdom, all our merit, con 
sists in conforming our will to his. If, after hav 
ing earnestly implored his light, this project grows 
upon you more and more ; if, especially, the super 
natural motives that may urge you to it increase ; if 
you feel that you will be obeying the voice of God, do 
not hesitate a moment, and enter with confidence 
upon your new career. If these precious motives 
do not influence you, you will undertake a busi 
ness not bad perhaps, but indifferent. If, finally, 
they are in opposition to your new ideas, and yet, 
nevertheless, you execute these ideas, it will be a 
great misfortune." 

During a trip through Germany his brother Lad 
a scruple about leaving unanswered the irreverent 
remarks of Protestants against the Catholic reli 
gion. Taken literally, the old proverb, He wlio is 
silent consents, was the condemnation of his silence ; 
nevertheless, something told him that he had not 



io8 Alexis Clerc. 

erred in avoiding fruitless controversies. Alexis, 
who was of the same opinion, suggested to him 
some very wise reflections on the subject : 

" In the first place, it is, as you think, quite use 
less to carry on arguments with Protestants. This 
is one of the cases in which we ought not to fight 
even for principles. I say fight; we ought not 
to even discuss. If your Protestants want to argue, 
listen to them only as far as politeness will not 
permit you to do otherwise. If they viant to learn, 
recommend them to read Bossuet s ( Histoire des 
Variations. In this way you will satisfy both 
charity and prudence. But tell me, are not Ger 
man Protestants like ours ? that is to say, if they 
occupy themselves with religious matters at all, is 
it not as pure deists, or, to speak more exactly, as 
Socinians, and if they do not agitate dogmatic 
questions, is it not because they are entirely indif 
ferent ? Do you know of any among them who 
have really a religion who pray ? . . . I would be 
very much interested in hearing your judgment 
formed from observation of the religious state of 
the people of those unfortunate states. 

"It may be hard for you not to be always able 
to reply to their objections and attacks. What this 
costs your self-love I do not care to diminish, but 
what there is in it that may wound your faith I 
would like to dissipate. To begin, do you think 
that the quickness of repartee which would enable 
you to have the last word, is a quality of faith ? 
Do you think that a most skilful man, a profound 
theologian, can refute all objections on the spot ? 



Service on Shore. 109 

St. Thomas of Aquin was once dining at the table 
of St. Louis. Suddenly he cried out, < That is con 
clusive against the ManicJieans. He had just 
found an unanswerable argument, and he forgot 
himself, like Archimedes. St. Louis, far from being 
offended by this distraction and this odd outcry, 
ordered his secretary to then and there take down 
the precious argument. You see, then, that you 
are very excusable in not being able to reply to 
everything. Moreover, conversations are very bad 
theological arenas. When we think of the rapidity 
with which conversation glides from one subject to 
another, how it is always unsystematic, superficial, 
futile, we should not hesitate to proscribe from ifc 
matters so complicated, so profound, and so neces 
sary as theological matters. Be, then, perfectly 
easy on this subject." 

Alexis was in continual fear lest his brother, 
dragged into the vortex of business, as the phrase is, 
would not have the necessary time for recollection, 
for meditation and prayer, practices without which 
he did not understand the Christian life. In the 
advice he gives Jules we feel that he speaks in good 
earnest from his own personal experience : 

" I want to improve the opportunity of this let 
ter, which I assure you is growing much longer 
than I intended, to seriously recommend you to use 
every day the beads I gave you. If you have lost 
them I engage to furnish you another pair. I have 
a supply. The Beads is an excellent devotion 
which was not invented by even the saints, but 
which the Blessed Virgin herself revealed to one of 



IIO Alexis Clcrc. 

her servants. It is not only good for people who 
cannot read ; it is very good, very profitable for the 
most learned. 

" Perhaps you have not time to say the beads all 
at once. Very well, say them in several parts. It 
you cannot say them entirely each day, say as much 
as you can. Go to sleep in trying to finish when 
you are behindhand. It is not at all displeasing to 
the Blessed Virgin for us to go to sleep murmur 
ing her most sweet name, and she will not fail to 
protect during the night him who has commended 
himself to her with his last waking breath. Do not 
be afraid of performing a mechanical devotion. 
Do nofc say, I am so tired that only my voice 
prays ; my mind is already asleep. In the first 
place, if we pray only when we feel our heart en 
kindled we will not pray often ; in the second 
place, it is by prajing at first badly, mechanically, 
with the voice only and half-asleep, that we will 
obtain the power to pray better." 

He had this point so much at heart that, two 
years later, at the moment of starting for China, 
he again renewed his recommendations. How 
earnest and pressing they are ! Insta opportune, 
importune, was his device. 

" In Paris we may say that nobody lives reason 
ably, neither those who are rich, on account of 
their manners and their luxury, nor those who are 
not, on account of the superhuman efforts they 
make to acquire riches. This particular character 
istic of Paris cannot have escaped you who have 
travelled so extensively. Such excess is deplorable, 



Service on Shore. in 

as I have tried to show in a letter I wrote father, 
and of which he approved, telling me that he 
would endeavor to make yon appreciate it. It does 
not appear that I have gained much success ; but 
to preach is my custom. However, reflect upon it 
yourself, and we will see if you do not think dif 
ferently then. But I believe the trouble lies 
more in the difficulty of resisting the general cur 
rent ; and, in fact, I, who in Paris have nothing to 
do, am hardly able to struggle against it. On the 
other hand, it is right and necessary to labor with 
one s whole strength. Moreover, it is very diffi 
cult to determine the time to give to leisure. 
Finally, a man in business is not a Carthusian. 
One should, nevertheless, guard against that im 
moderate agitation which passes for deliberate ac 
tivity, that tumult of ideas which is mistaken for 
mental labor. Meanwhile, if, with the intention 
of not allowing yourself to be carried away by that 
species of excitement, you will observe a certain 
little practice, I trust you will come out in the end 
safe and sound. 

"It is to consecrate a half -hour every morning 
to meditation. Let it be your first act after rising ; 
let nothing hinder you from it. By occupying 
yourself with spiritual things during that space of 
time you will not only render to G-od the homage 
you owe him, but, in addition, you will receive all 
the graces with which God rewards an action that 
is pleasing to him. Advancement in piety is a 
certain consequence of daily meditation. Do not 
forget that all good counsel comes from G-od all, 



112 Alexis Clerc. 

even what relates to the things of this world. It 
is natural that G-od should give it to the man who 
consults him frequently and whose ear is attentive 
to his voice. Such is the fruit of meditation. If 
vou find this exercise somewhat difficult, you must 
not be less persevering in it. The devil has nothing 
so much at heart as the preventing us from medi 
tating, for nothing gives us more strength against 
him. But there is a method for meditation which 
greatly diminishes its natural difficulties. 

It is to read the evening before, in a book ex 
pressly for the purpose and there are many of 
them the subject of the meditation, with the 
principal points marked out. A quarter of an 
hour should be devoted every evening to taking 
this previously-masticated food ; the night will 
prepare it, and in the morning it can be digested 
and relished without too much trouble. For the 
choice of a book and for the details of this method 
consult your director." 

Had he, then, already renounced the world, he 
who wrote letters that reveal so much experience 
of the interior life ? No, not yet; but, to tell the 
truth, he was very near it ; he was of the num 
ber of those Christians who, conforming their 
lives to the counsels of the apostle, know how 
to use the world as if they used it not (I. 
Cor. vii. 31). In his different stations on the 
coast of Brittany, at Lorient, Brest, Indret, 
everywhere, he left this impression of a man dead 
to the world, still wearing its liveries, but belong 
ing heart and soul to the valiant legion of the 



Service on Shore. 113 

strongholds of Israel. His old companions, when 
they came to see him, beheld with their own eyes, 
and not without astonishment, or learned from 
public report, this admirable change. One of 
them arrived at Indret during the autumn of 
1849, and requested to visit the manufactories. 
As soon as he introduced himself as a former pupil 
of the Polytechnic School every door was opened 
to him. But this was not all he wanted ; he de 
sired to see Little Clerc, and the hope of renewing 
acquaintance with him was the chief attraction, if 
not the real object, of his journey to Indret. Un 
fortunately, Clerc was for the moment engaged 
with Commander Bourgois in studying on the 
Loire a series of experiments relative to the differ 
ent forms of screw-propellers. The visitor was 
much disappointed. To console him, an engineer 
of naval constructions said to him : " Wait until 
Sunday. He will certainly return for Communion. 
Then you can see him as much as you want." To 
his great regret, this dear comrade could not wait 
for Clerc s return ; he left not a little edified by 
what he had heard. 

Another in Brest, frequenting the same chapel 
and occupying a place very near Clerc during the 
Holy Sacrifice, often, remarked the fervor of his 
devotion, which was especially manifest when he 
came from the holy table. Back on his kneeling- 
bench, he was lost in profound meditation, and hid 
his face in his hands. If he raised his head for an 
instant his cheeks were seen to be wet with tears. 

There arrived in this same city a naval officer 



114 Alexis Clerc. 

whom Alexis when he left Valparaiso had request 
ed to furnish him for his return to France with 
introductions to some Christian friends, members 
of a Conference of St. Vincent de Paul. Know 
ing him to be attached to the port of Brest, this 
officer made it his first business to enquire for his 
old companion. He was told that he was absent, 
and to this information was added the best of ac 
counts. " Your friend is the most zealous of us 
all, our model in everything, and the mainspring 
of all our good works. If he were here, all ! you 
would already have met him escorted by a legion 
of children of whom he is the schoolmaster, or 
rather the father, and to whom he distributes with 
the food of the body that of the soul. Always 
ready to do his utmost he allows himself but 
little rest." 

And in truth, according to the testimony of the 
worthy ecclesiastics who were then acquainted 
with all the secrets of his soul, he excelled in 
equalizing his charity and mortification, two vir 
tues whose mutual agreement is generally profit 
able to both. The Abbe G-uillet,* his pastor and 
director during the whole of his sojourn at Indret, 
informs us how he apportioned his modest salaiy. 
Each month he divided it into three parts ; the 
first was for his venerated father, the second for 
the poor, and the third and smallest for his personal 
maintenance. After this he still managed to save 
some of his own portion for charity, and he im- 

* The Abbe" Quillet has recently died pastor of St. Nicholas 
of Nantes. 



Service on Shore. 115 

posed such privations upon himself that his supe 
rior officer, Commander Bourgois, fearing for his 
health, had to interfere. His spirit of mortifica 
tion was so great, another member of the Breton 
clergy * assures us, that during Lent he limited 
himself to a plate of thick Trappist soup per day. 

Anybody else in his place would have thought 
that prudence commanded him to lay aside a few- 
crowns, and to amass a little sum against unex 
pected emergencies which might suddenly em 
barrass an officer in the discharge of his duties, or 
even cut him short in his career. Clerc did not 
reason so ; his generosity would not be shackled 
by any calculation or any anticipation of the 
future. " As to the money you are unwilling to 
take," on one occasion he wrote to his brother 
who refused to draw from his purse, " remember 
well that it is not mine, for you know that all, ab 
solutely all, that we do not need belongs to the 
poor." All that he did not need, his superfluous 
money, was all that was not rigorously necessary 
for his maintenance, and God knows how little he 
lived upon. He denied himself the most innocent 
pleasures, even so far as to limit the replenishing 
of his snuff-box, a subject about which he would 
jest pleasantly, being always the first one to laugh 
at his pennilessness, as he called the excess of his 
voluntary poverty. 

" Now," he continued, speaking of die money 
he had vainly tried to induce his brother to ac- 

* The Abb<5 Gue"guenon, pastor of St. Martin of Moriaix, 
It was in Brest that be was Clerc s spiritual director. 



Ii6 - Alexis Clerc. 

cept, " since I have no immediate need of it, it is 
superfluous ; if you, likewise, have no need of it, I 
do not propose to keep it, but shall pay it to 
others." 

Thus, in his estimation, he did not give, he paid, 
to the poor, believing he fulfilled a duty of justice 
in appropriating to them all he could spare. Need 
we explain this matter to the reader ? The se 
verest morality does not go as far as this, and does 
not claim, even for the poor, under the name of 
superfluity, all we have left after we have gener 
ously provided for our own necessities. Olerc had 
to reciify his ideas of alms-giving when as a priest 
it was his part to apply them to others ; still, we 
must confess that there is something beautiful in 
deceiving one s self in his fashion, and that such 
self-deception is not dangerous for people of the 
world, whose rigorism has no consequences save to 
themselves. 

We have thought that as Clerc had for a witness 
of his life at that time a distinguished officer, a 
capable judge of all kinds of merit, it was our 
duty to seek information from so precious a source, 
and this is what Admiral Bourgois, yielding to our 
desires, sent us in reply : " These memories are 
already far in the past. Nevertheless, I have not 
forgotten that the young ensign showed at that 
epoch (1849) a maturity of judgment and a con 
scientious and prudent zeal which, joined to a 
solid education and a most upright character, gave 
promise of a very excellent naval officer. The de 
sire of being useful to his fellow-men by instruct- 



Service on Shore. 117 

ing them and improving them morally was already 
developed in him. An elementary school compris 
ing the entire ship s crew had been established on 
board the Pelican. Every evening when the ship s 
Bailing did not prevent, the tables were carried to 
the middle-deck, and Ensign Olerc directed the 
school with a patient and enlightened zeal. He 
himself gave more advanced lessons to those of the 
men who aimed at becoming captains or mates in 
the merchant marine service, or at promotion in 
the military marine service. I have since met 
several of them who profited by his instruction so 
far as to make careers for themselves, and who ex 
pressed deep gratitude for the lessons which had 
assisted them to do so." 

These reminiscences of Admiral Bourgois agree 
perfectly with his first impressions of Alexis Clerc 
preserved in the notes which he sent to the Minister 
of the Navy in July, 1849. Here is the opinion 
he then had of his young and clever assistant : 
"An extremely zealous and enlightened officer. 
A graduate of the Polytechnic School, he com 
bines with a wide theoretic knowledge sufficient 
experience of a sailor s business and sufficient at 
tachment to its duties to make him in every re 
spect a remarkable officer." 

As to the Abbe Guillot, who while parish priest 
at Indret performed the duties of naval chaplain, 
he congratulated himself on possessing in Alexis 
not only an exemplary parishioner but also an 
auxiliary rich "in energy and resources, and whose 
greatest delight was to be employed in all sorts of 



Il8 Alexis Clerc. 

good works for the welfare of his neighbor and 
the benefit of souls. Olerc already, in friendly dis 
cussions, exercised himself valiantly in wielding 
the strong arms furnished him by his inexhaustible 
arsenal, the " Summa Theologiae" of St. Thomas. 
When his comrades brought forward objections 
against religion, he would reply: "Is that all? 
Truly, you are not well supplied ; I will offer you 
many more." Hereupon he would propose to them 
St. Thomas most serious objections to the points 
attacked, and answer them as the great doctor did. 
" You are right," would bs his friends verdict. 
" If I am right you should follow my example. 
You flatter yourselves that the Catholic religion is 
afraid of your objections. All of them, those of 
your most famous philosophers included, are only 
scraps from St. Thomas, who answered them long 
ago I " If the persons whom he thus forced to 
capitulate did not surrender unconditionally, the 
blow was struck, and later on grace finished the 
work of conversion, in which the Abbe Guillet had 
the happiness of co-operating. "I had not yet 
established a Conference of St. Vincent de Paul at 
Indret," adds that good priest. "One morning 
Clerc came to me and said : I am not tranquil ; I 
believe that my present position is not the one in 
which G-od wants me. I am not worthy to be a 
priest, but if the Pope should form a Catholic 
army,* I would to-morrow carry him my epaulets 
and say to him : Most Holy Father, I am your 

* Notice the date, long anterior to the organization of the 
Pontifical Zouaves. 



Service on Shore, 



man. Abbe Guillet replied : (( My dear friend, 
I believe that you are exactly in your place; for if 
it is necessary to have good priests and good re 
ligious, it is also necessary to have good Christians 
in the world to edify it by their example and to 
prove that in all conditions of life it is possible to 
be truly Christian. Thus, in this parish you are 
worth to me, you alone, a whole Conference of St. 
Vincent de Paul ! " 

These ideas of vocation, still very vague, assumed 
consistence only little by little after several 
years of service; nevertheless, the young officer s 
most intimate friends could not help perceiving his 
repugnance to contract any irrevocable engage 
ment with the world, and one of his companions 
who was pursued by the same thoughts and 
touched by the same grace was even clear-sighted 
enough to penetrate the projects which, as yet, 
Clerc concealed from himself, and which were only 
to be accomplished a long time afterwards. 

While in Lonent Clerc frequented the house of 
Commander Le Bobinnec, one of those old-fash 
ioned, honest Breton houses, redolent with the 
perfume of all the patriarchal virtues. Mr. Le Bo 
binnec, then a ship s lieutenant and already father 
of a family, had met Clerc in a naval commission 
to which they both belonged. "In our first inter 
view," he tells us, " I found in that young officer 
such unusual distinction, joined to such great mo 
desty, that I felt drawn to him on the spot. I saw 
before me not only a fervent Christian but a thor 
oughly instructed Christian. I begged him not to 



120 Alexis Clerc. 

forget that my mother-in-law loved to receive all 
the officers whom I presented to her, and that we 
should esteem ourselves happy if he would kindly 
give us all the leisure he had to dispose of. My 
mother-in-law, a woman of great piety, appreciated 
him, and included him in the number of those she 
liked to call her children. 

" Our dear Clcrc accepted this adoption with his 
ordinary simplicity, and did not hesitate to fulfil 
its duties with a naturalness that charmed us." 

Mr. Le Bobinnec here adds: "I must refrain 
from giving to the publicity of a biography many 
details easier to understand than to express. Let it 
suffice for me to say that whenever I pass through 
the Eue de Sevres I enter the Jesuit Fathers 
church, and, kneeling on the marble that covers 
his remains, I cannot help saying to the clear mar 
tyr : * Thou who didst watch over the cradle of my 
children, do not forget them now. " 

Clerc loved children so much ! He seemed so 
happy when holding them on his knees ! His 
friends thought he would make a good father of 
family, and interested themselves in preparing for 
him a future suited to his tastes, 

Some time later he was in Nantes knocking at 
the door of one of the professors of the royal col 
lege. Letters from Lorient had announced his 
visit. He found one of the most respectable of 
interiors; the gentle seriousness of the Rollins and 
the Lhomonds seemed to him to hover over this 
family. Besides, the dot was suitable, the young 
lady perfectly well-bred and fully deserving of 



Service on Shore. 121 

esteem. Although these preliminaries engaged 
him to nothing whatsoever, Clerc, like a good son, 
thought it his duty to write about the matter to his 
father, from whom he kept no secrets. His letter 
is curious on account of the species of embarrass 
ment visible in it when he undertakes to sketch the 
portrait of the lady, whose acquaintance his father 
would, of course, prefer to make beforehand, since 
there was a possibility that she might be his daugh 
ter-in-law some day. Conscious that he has suc 
ceeded badly in this task and has given but a very 
imperfect outline, he adds by way of excuse : " I 
have seen her only once and for a rather short 
time, and I do not notice women very much 
and do not look at them very closely, especially 
young ones." 

It was a charming embarrassment in a man of so 
little natural timidity, and who had already lived 
so long. He was not so ingenuous at eighteen, but 
God, by the effusion of his grace, had given him a 
new heart and had renewed his youth like the 
eagle s. Renovdbitur ut aquilce juventus tua. 

He concludes his letter with these words: "How 
ever, I am not thinking of marrying." 

This was a ray of light to his poor father, and 
the cause of an uneasiness of which we shall find 
traces in the rest of their correspondence. 

A year passes eighteen months. Clerc is now a 
lieutenant and resides in Brest ; his fellow-mem 
bers of the St. Vincent de Paul Society have en 
trusted to him the duties of secretary, which he 
discharges at an evening reunion with the earnest- 



122 Alexis Clerc. 

ness and energy he gives to everything. A new 
member arrives, an ensign. This new-comer is 
himself urged to quit the world by a powerful at 
traction which will not be long in gaining the vic 
tory. He has since described to us his impressions 
of his new acquaintance and the characteristic cir 
cumstances of this first meeting. 

C erc was not handsome, at least in the Greek 
sense of the word, and his face, with its sharp out 
lines, would not have offered a very pleasing model 
to a sculptor. The extreme mobility of his fea 
tures instantly betrayed all his feelings ; his eye of 
fire and his vibrating voice bespoke a soul as en 
thusiastic as energetic. Short of stature, he was 
that evening muffled up in a long, light overcoat 
that reached half way down his legs and gave him 
a sort of clerical appearance. The meeting passed 
as usual in relating the wants of the poor persons 
taken care of by the conference and in arranging 
the distribution of the alms. However it came 
about, our two naval officers remarked one another, 
and, after the prayer was said, they felt a need of 
meeting again without witnesses. 

Clerc invited his new confrere to call at his resi 
dence the next day, so that they might go together 
to visit the poor. The invitation was accepted, 
and at the hour named the new acquaintance was 
at the rendezvous. He met Clerc at the door of his 
room, which he was just entering. The two re- 
descended the stairs and walked side by side for 
five minutes, exchanging a few words meanwhile. 
It was sufficient to make them thoroughly known 



Service on Shore. 123 

to one another, so much in unison were their 
hearts. " But how is it/ the ensign asked ex 
abrupto, " that with such ideas you are still in the 
i.avy ?" 

At this unexpected apostrophe Clerc turned 
shortly, drew back a step, held himself erect, and, 
looking the ensign straight in the eyes, said : 
" And you why are you in the navy ? " 

" Hold ! you are right," replied the other. 

From that moment they were constant compa 
nions ; their works, their exercises of devotion, 
their common future, vaguely foreseen, drew them 
together. Sometimes they wandered to the fields, 
and in the open air abandoned themselves to the 
joy of their hearts, talking of God quite at their 
ease, and even singing in his praise some song of 
the Church. 

Providence reserved for them a still closer inti 
macy. 



CHAPTEE IV. 

ALEXIS CLERC DURING THE EVENTS OF 1848. 

Alexis to his Brother Jules. 

" MAKCH 1, 1848. 

" WHAT shall I say to you, my dear Jules ? 
Do I really know what I think ? What is there 
left after this tempest that at one sweep has car 
ried away men and institutions ? Where are you ? 
where will you stop ? You want to overthrow a 
minister, and you overthrow tlie monarchy ? Do 
you consider that incalculable mass which you 
start into motion ? Where will you find the force 
to stop it ? Must there be the same old, cruel 
oscillations before it stops spontaneously ? It took 
but five hours to destroy a work that cost so much 
labor ! Now, whence shall we derive confidence in 
the thing established ? It is the tenth revolution 
since 89 intervals of five years between them ! 
How much money ! how much blood ! and why ? 
Let us weep over a country where ten successive 
Governments have not known how, even at the 
last moment, to make the concession which would 
have saved them ; let us weep over a country which 
cannot peacefully conquer its rights. 

" I regret neither Guizot nor Louis Philippe. I 

124 



During the Events of 1848. 125 

am terrified at their fall, but I am much more ter 
rified at the immediate future, perhaps already 
past for you. 

"It is not a political revolution you have ac 
complished, it is a social revolution. You will say, 
perhaps you say now, the ex-bourgeoisie, just as 
you have said the ex-nobility. 

"Behold the people, the laborer, the proletaire 
on the escutcheon ! "Will these usurping waves 
rise to power, or will they drag power down to 
their level ? Yes, certainly ; if the nobility was 
unjust and tyrannical towards the other classes, 
the bourgeoisie was the same towards the prole- 
taires ; but will these be any better ? Is injustice 
any different whether a hundred suffer from it or 
a hundred thousand? The injustice of the bour 
geoisie sprang from egotism and indifference ; will 
not the other be from hatred and cruelty ? The 
bourgeoisie had little morality and little enlighten 
ment ; but what is there to suddenly raise our new 
masters to the level even of the bourgeoisie ? 

" Your provisional Government, which has im 
provised itself which, moreover, does not pretend 
to do as in 1830, to really consult the opinion 
of France proclaims the Kepublic ! Oar vote is 
already no more than a sanction. Let us not de 
ceive ourselves, and let us not be deceived by 
words. There is no revolution without, as a con 
sequence, usurpation of power. My opinion, and 
I believe it to be well founded, is that France is 
not republican. Nevertheless, the Eepublic will 
be accepted I do not doubt. Does this show usur- 



126 Alexis Clerc. 

pation of power yes or no ? Facts are accom 
plished, as G-uizot said. Behold, then, France 
governed by Paris ! God grant it is but provisional. 
"We must once more accept this fact accomplished ; 
but there is another which we must not accept, 
against which we must fight to the death if there 
is a purpose of accomplishing it, or if it is being 
accomplished : it is the government of Paris by 
the Commune, by the clubs, by the revolutionary 
army. 

" You already have the Commune, the revolu 
tionary army of your twenty-five mobilized legions ; 
beware of the clubs. The right of reunion, which 
is just, necessary, and the dispute of which has 
brought about all the trouble the right of reunion 
may easily be transformed into that of association, 
of clubs. There is but a step ; is it possible that it 
will not be taken ? 

" I consent to the republic, but till the day of 
our death let us prevent unauthorized governments 
from first encompassing and then tyrannizing over 
the national government." 

Such were the sentiments Alexis communicated 
to his brother Jules on the morrow of that revo 
lution of February 24, which had in a few hours 
overthrown the establishment of July, and trans 
ferred the destinies of France to the hazardous 
decision of universal suffrage. Let us acknow 
ledge that the young naval officer, who at that 
time apprehended everything, was wiser and more 
enlightened than many others. Because the peo 
ple, surprised at so easy a victory, acted like a 



During the Events of 1 848. 1 27 

good prince ; because they did not tear down the 
crosses and plunder the churches as in 1830, men 
thought all was safe, and abandoned themselves to 
a, blind confidence which was very soon to be 
cruelly undeceived. It was with reason that the 
Provisional Government, where Lamartine sat be 
side Ledru-Rollin, in company with Louis Blanc, 
Flocon, Albert, the working mechanic, etc., told 
no good tale to our Alexis ; for it was too plain to 
whoever looked at things coolly that the conces 
sions made to the revolutionary passions were 
more fit to exalt than to appease them. But the 
fallen power was so little regretted that there was 
a disposition to forgive the emeute, provided it was 
moderate. The Citizen Caussidiere himself, be 
come from the conspirator he was the evening 
before prefect of police, calmed the uneasiness of 
honest people, who certainly would not have se 
lected him for such an office, by promising them 
in his picturesque style to make order out of dis 
order. The least indication in the masses of re 
spect for property and for religion was enthusiasti 
cally welcomed as a pledge of security, and those 
who heard them have not forgotten these words of 
Father Lacordaire, spoken, in allusion to one of 
the episodes of the victorious emeute from the 
pulpit of Notre Dame, on Sunday, February 27 : 
" Prove the existence of God to you ! Why, you 
would have the right to call me a parricide and 
guilty of sacrilege if I should dare to undertake to 
prove God 1 The doors of this cathedral would 
open of themselves and would show you this peo- 



128 Alexis Clerc. 

pie magnificent in its wrath, bearing God even to 
his altar amidst the respect of an adoring throng." 
The audience burst into applause. 

Then the Journal des Debats, drawing a moral 
from the incident, added this commentary : "It 
is well. Let the Church take her place like all of 
us. Let her show herself, the people will recog 
nize her. Let her have no fear of the revolution, 
to the end that the revolution may have no fear of 
her. G-od has surrendered the world to discussion 
tradidit mundum disputationi. Let the Church 
use her arms preaching and charity, instruction 
and action. Let her help herself, and G-od will 
help her." 

At that epoch it was no small merit not to share 
any of the current illusions; I do not speak only 
of those of the Journal des Debats, which com 
promised a little too much with the revolution, 
but of those of the wisest and best of men, in 
fluenced, it must be allowed, by the excess of their 
good faith and by their inclination to judge others 
by themselves. This merit belonged to our young 
sailor. We have seen how at the first, and before 
any sadly instructive experiences, he denounced 
the usurpation of revolutions which demand of 
universal suffrage a tardy and illusive sanction of an 
accomplished fact ; and further, in the clubs of 
1848, which in general made more noise than they 
did harm, he already discerns the confused germs 
of the fatal Commune, whose victim he himself will 
be in 1871. 

Who of us on reaching the age of manhood, has 



During the Events of 1848. 129 

not found himself in his turn face to face with a 
successful revolution ? 1815, 1830, 1848, 1852, 
1871. The dates are so near together that every 
body has encountered some one of them. Now 
just this is the trial, too often the quicksand of our 
judgment, of our character. Few pass through it 
without damage, and it is a great honor not to 
have been ensnared. It is good in all cases, once 
the danger is past and calm re-established, to make 
a severe examination of conscience on the way one 
has managed one s bark during the tempest. In 
offering my readers a standard of comparison, of 
which Alexis letters to his family will furnish all 
the points, I shall provide them with one means 
the more for thorough self-knowledge and impar 
tial self-judgment. 

Living in the provinces and contemplating the 
struggle from a distance, Clerc had over his 
Parisian correspondents the advantage of escaping 
the vertigo which it is so difficult to avoid when 
one is condemned to be present in person and to 
breathe day and night the fiery atmosphere of 
revolutions. His strong religious studies, the 
healthy ideas he gained from his " Summa " of St. 
Thomas, were also a great preservative to him, 
and with no other aid we shall see him victori 
ously overleap the pitfalls that are not sufficiently 
mistrusted by certain illustrious and fervent Ca 
tholics. 

One month, two months pass. It is now known 
what may be expected from the Provisional Gov 
ernment, from the men of the Hotel de Ville and 



130 Alexis Clerc. 

the Luxembourg. Public credit lias fallen, the 
national workshops have killed labor, excitement 
is constantly on the increase and extends from 
Paris to the departments. But the time of the 
elections draws near, and France is going to use 
universal suffrage to give herself a constituent as 
sembly. Things happen just right ; it is Holy 
Week, and the electoral urns will be opened on Eas 
ter-day. Alexis perceives that his brother has the 
political fever, and that his suffrage will wander, 
to fall perhaps upon the head of Ledru-Rollin or 
of Lamennais, if not even of Pierre Leroux or of 
Victor Considerant. Now is the opportunity, or 
never, for a sound fraternal correction. This is 
what he writes to Jules : 

"I am truly afflicted at the position in which 
you put yourself, and I beg you to reflect upon 
what I am going to say to you, and to reflect 
seriously. 

" You are most thoroughly devoted to the pub 
lic weal, and I honor you for it. But why is your 
devotedness so vexed, uneasy, anxious, hurried ? 
You lose yourself in your bustle, your proceedings, 
your speeches. Be more calm. Do you think 
that if everybody had to take so much trouble to 
be republican, the republic would be possible ? 
Do you want a republic that so entirely monopo 
lizes the citizens that there must be slaves to pro 
vide for the material life, as was the case in the re 
publics of antiquity ? How is it your agitation, 
your uneasy, hurried actions go so far as to give 
you a fever, and you do not see that the system is 



During the Events of 1848. 131 

false and bad ? You ought not to act this way. 
I beg you to have regard to my advice. Rest 
eight days without going to the club, and then 
only go from time to time. Do not give up your 
life to a whirlwind that absorbs it and is incapable 
of producing anything good. Do you know, or do 
you not know where the truth is to be found ? Is 
it not in religion ? Do you not believe in the vir 
tue and enlightenment of some priests ? Go and 
ask them to name your candidates ; they are 
acquainted with men and they will teach you 
about them; you cannot learn to know them 
through your clubs. I do not wish to enter into 
details, but I wish to tell you what I would have 
done. 

" Give up going to the club. Recover your 
composure. Remember we are in Holy Week. 
Go quite simply and ask the Committee Montalem- 
bert for candidates, or go to the Abbe dela Bouil- 
lerie, or to any pious manowho may possess your 
confidence, and rest quietly ; but, above all things, 
do not at any price make a compact with evil. I 
pray you let there not be on your list a single name 
which your conscience does not approve. Do not 
attempt to deceive yourself in this matter by ad 
vantageous combinations. Evil is evil absolutely, 
and think of the part the Assembly will play." 

Alas ! wishing to do himself what he so earnestly 
recommends to his brother, he is greatly troubled 
to find a sufficient number of names that his con 
science can approve of. We will only say that he 
had on his list, side by side with the names of 



132 Alexis Clerc. 

Father Lacordaire and the Abbe Deguerry, pastor 
of the Madeleine, those of Michelet and Beranger. 

After having copied his list for his brother, 
Alexis adds: "I do not recommend it to you; 
still, I think there is nothing in it to condemn. I 
reproach myself for only thinking this, and not 
being sure of it." 

His scruple was perfectly justifiable. What ! 
this exceedingly severe censor of his brother s votes, 
who would reproach him for Ledru-Rollin and 
Lamennais, will himself vote for Beranger and 
Michelet ! Beranger, the songster of " Lisette " and 
of "Dieu des bonnes Gens" ! Michelet, the calum 
niator of the clergy, who had quite recently poured 
out his gall and bile in an ignoble pamphlet en 
titled " The Priest, the Woman, and the Family !" 
Behold to what compromises men were brought by 
that absurd system of voting which since the 4th of 
September we have been practising again, and which 
will always find warm partisans among the advo 
cates of universal suffrage ! And they call it inter 
rogating the nation ! 

What a disturbance of ideas there was in that 
year 1848, and what a strange confusion of words 
and things ! 

See that former disciple of Saint-Simon and 
Fourier, now a good Catholic, recommending his 
choice of candidateship with the double authority 
of what he was and what he has become, recom 
mending it to socialists as well as to Catholics ! 
"My return to Christianity," he says, "has never 
caused me to feel the necessity of condemning the 



During the Events of 1 848. 1 33 

first bent of my ideas. Undoubtedly, I have re 
pudiated in the Saint-Simonistic and Fourieristic 
theories all that was incompatible with Christian 
truth ; but I owe to them my having recognized 
long ago the necessity and also the possibility of 
realizing that same truth in all social relations." 
He adds : " The republican principle annuls the 
only obstacles that can oppose this realization. 
Therefore, 1 am republican by a double title as a 
Christian and as a socialist." 

And his choice of candid ateship, besides being 
perfectly honest and in good faith, was warmly 
patronized by the Catholic committees. 

Clerc, exiled to the provinces, and deprived of 
the information he would have wished to have con 
cerning the Parisian electoral tickets, thought he 
was acting for the best in hazarding certain names 
with which he had no sympathy whatsoever. But if 
the Catholic elector could reconcile it to his con 
science to name Michelet and Beranger, what must 
be thought of the system which extorted from him 
such votes ? If Alexis was a hundred leagues re 
moved from socialistic ideas, his brother did not 
repel them so resolutely, and was one of those per 
sons who tried to harmonize them with Catholic 
dogma to a certain degree. A subscriber to the 
Ere Nouvelle, he did not disapprove of Father Lacor- 
daire s sitting in the National Assembly not far from 
Barbes and Ledru-Rollin. Alexis did all in his 
power to change his views in this respect. In the 
course of the month of June he undertook to write a 
long letter of a dogmatic character to Madame de 



134 Alexis Clerc. 

S , whose superiority of mind he was not the only 
one to appreciate. This letter was evidently intended 
for his brother much more than for. the lady whose 
well-known sentiments promised him an ally in the 
cause he was trying to gain. But while he wrote 
events hurried after one another, and terrible ex 
plosions of popular fury, enkindled by the secret 
societies, scattered consternation and terror 
throughout France. Under the influence of heart 
rending emotions which were constantly recurring, 
Alexis terminates with these words, that are a vivid 
description of the situation : 

" I wrote you these cold pages while France 
was plunged in fire and blood, and while the tele 
graphic despatches kept us in a state of fever 
ish anxiety. You will be astonished at my hav 
ing continued writing; it is because this hor 
rible war does not touch the real question, which 
will come up sooner or later. I believe I have as 
yet no misfortune of those who are dear to me to 
lament. We have enough to do to weep over the 
country and to pray for her. May so terrible a 
chastisement be an expiation of our crimes, and 
may it please God to accept so much heroic de- 
votedriess as atonement for so much indifference 
and egotism. Let us open our eyes and judge the 
trees of the new doctrines by the fruits they bear. 
I have the hope that in the end misfortune, which 
sanctifies man, will make the nation better. Oh ! 
if God would order it thus, we should then indeed 
be saved." 

This was as yet a premature hope. 



During the Events of 1848. 135 

" May my blood be the last poured out ! " ex 
claimed in dying the martyred archbishop, struck 
down before the barricade of the Faubourg St. 
Antoine at the moment he was bearing to the in 
surgents a message of peace. General Negrier had 
fallen at the same place, and General de Brea had 
been cowardly assassinated at the Barriere de Fon- 
tainebleau, both after having stopped the firing of 
their troops and while trying to negotiate. Five 
other generals and two representatives had met 
death in that horrible struggle, which was one of 
the most furious that ever drenched the streets of 
Paris with blood. 

Clerc s fears for his family were quieted only 
when his father, whose patriotic ardor was his 
dread, had given him a sign of life. 

" My dear father," he wrote July 1, "I thank 
you very much for your letter of June 27, which I 
have expected most impatiently. 1 learned from 
the papers that the Faubourg du Temple held out 
till the third day, and I plainly foresaw that the 
neighborhood of the bridges and the few ways of 
communication with the boulevard would give a 
strategic importance to the quarter where you re 
side. The elder Madame Mallet received on the 
28th a letter from Madame Pages, from which I 
gathered that you were safe and sound ; neverthe 
less, I was anxious for direct news, and I thank you 
for not having delayed sending it to me. 

"I am much obliged (don t be vexed) to the 
insurgents, the troops, and the national guard, for 
having in turn kept you a prisoner in the house. 



136 Alexis Clerc. 

I cannot sufficiently remind you that it is foolish 
to go out for an airing in the midst of a civil war. 
It is impossible to be calm under such critical cir 
cumstances, and if it hadiiot been for your forced 
captivity you might have exposed yourself to a 
useless danger. From your account of your first 
day s peregrination, I conjecture that you had many 
chances of not escaping so cheaply. 

" I shall read with great interest all you can re 
call of the insurgents speeches, all you can relate 
of their means and their object, so as to gain a cor 
rect knowledge of the terrible enemy that has 
almost ruined the country and that it has cost so 
dear to overcome. 

" If you will permit some moralizing upon this 
great misfortune, I refer you to my last letter. 
The state is a responsible being, subject, like man, 
to the law of suffering ; it follows, therefore, that 
justice must be satisfied in its regard. History in 
terror registers the cause of these catastrophes; 
bloody expiations are needed to wash out so many 
unpunished crimes. Finally, it must be under 
stood that the hand that chastises seeks before all 
to correct. 

" The chastisement is terrible ; France has shed 
the purest of her blood. I hope that we have noth 
ing more to expiate. May the just and merciful God 
grant us to change our ways and henceforth walk 
in those he has marked out for us. Oh ! then 
France will be really saved. Otherwise, if we con 
tinue our efforts to establish the foundations of so 
ciety on a clever egotism ; if that egotism, 



During the Events of 1 848 . 137, 

as enlightened as you please, is to be the prin 
ciple of morality and of the social contraet, we 
are lost. There is no longer question of yield 
ing to the state a part of our liberty by obey 
ing the law, a part of our property by paying the 
taxes ; we would remain in our old errors, and we 
would have witnessed only the first scene of the de 
struction of our country. 

" No ; France, who has always given the world 
the example of great and generous sentiments and 
this is more than her power, more than her mili 
tary genius, what makes us love her must, ceasing 
to copy English civilization which suits neither her 
manners, her mind, nor her heart, abjure egotism 
and let the fraternity she has graven upon her 
arms be deeply graven in her heart. 

" The deplorable philosophers of the last cen 
tury and of this have succeeded, the former in dry 
ing up our hearts, the latter in inspiring us by 
means of calumnies with hatred towards the pre 
tended happy ones of the world, and in making us 
believe that our destiny and our right is an un 
mixed happiness here upon earth. These doctrines 
have not rested in the domain of ideology ; news 
papers and pamphlets have carried them every 
where; the " Mysteries of Paris," "The Wander 
ing Jew," and many other productions that have 
made less noise have popularized them ; and I do 
not doubt that the investigation which will be made 
of this abominable insurrection will prove that it 
was only the logical consequence of these princi 
ples. These romancers, these philosophers do not 



,138 Alexis Clerc. 

fight ; they detest civil war, it is impossible to con 
vict them ; nevertheless, they are the most guilty, 
they are the true instigators of civil war. Will 
they understand what they have done ? I dare not 
hope it of all of them. The Reforme has given the 
generous example of regretting the malicious re 
marks it published, and for which it finds itself 
severely punished." 

These are certainly uncommonly exalted and just 
views, and would to God they might have had some 
influence on the governing classes, who, being more 
enlightened, bear before God and before history 
the weight of a heavier responsibility. 

The following letter touches upon a subject less 
grave, but is striking enough, and besides shows 
very plainly the nobility of spirit which our Alexis 
knew full well how to reconcile with Christian hu 
mility. In order that it may be understood it will 
be sufficient to explain that the Caffarelli being de 
finitely withdrawn for alteration, and Mr. Mallet 
having received another command, Alexis family 
were extremely desirous that he should not be 
separated from a superior officer whose friendship he 
had long since gained. Hence the efforts which Mr. 
Jules Clerc made with the friend of their childhood, 
Mr. Emile Marie, whose father become minister of 
justice, occupied the hotel of the Place Vendome. 
Between ourselves, Alexis was not sorry for the op 
portunity of commenting upon the republican aus 
terity of his brother Jules, and finding it at fault. 

" MY GOOD JULES : I do not know how to scold 
you for what you have done about my sailing with 



During the Events of 1848. 139 

Mr. Mallet, especially as Madame Pages advised you 
to do it ; but I must tell you that it is with intense 
displeasure that I have heard of it. How could 
you do for me what your susceptibility would pre 
vent you from doing for yourself ? For pity s sake, 
if I have the good fortune to possess some friends 
in places above me, do not make me lose them. I 
can understand that kind of contempt influential 
people feel when men make stepping-stones of their 
friendship and intimacy. Do you not see that 
Emile Marie s position and our friendship with him 
are two things completely distinct, that it is as ab 
surd as unjust to make the one a pretext for using 
the other ? Probably you have no idea of the mul 
titude of solicitors that crowd round that poor 
fellow, and you deprive him of the one little mo 
ment of pleasure he would have experienced in 
thinking that I had not importuned him. 

" He has much more need of a disinterested af 
fection than I have of all the services he could 
render me by his position. And you, my good 
Jules, whose delicacy of feeling is so exquisite, 
you have done this ! What pains me most is that 
your affection for me, the affection of you all in 
Paris, is so voluntarily blind ; for, in the first place, 
you would not do for yourselves what you do for 
me, and secondly, if you were not so greatly mis 
taken regarding my sentiments you would not do 
it for me. You have been repulsed by De Plas ; * 

*This Christian friend shared all Clerc s sentiments and the 
two were worthy of one another. Later we shall be better ac 
quainted with him. 



140 Alexis Clerc. 

I was sure you would be and I am delighted ; 
Emile ought to have treated you in the same way. 
Now do not think that I set no value on friendship 
and that I make it a point never to ask anything 
of a friend. It is too sweet to me to be useful to 
those Hove ; but I will ask of my friends only such 
things as depend upon them personally, and not 
upon their public functions. The amusing side of 
the affair is that you make one more old school 
republican who takes up the trade of a solicitor, 
and I, who am the reactionist, I act the puritan. 

" I had foreseen with regard to De Plas the tricks 
of which you were capable, but I acknowledge that 
I did not have the subtlety to guess that you would 
besiege that poor Emile for proceedings so entirely 
out of his province. 

"Finally, I must tell you that, according to 
your own way of looking at things, you have made 
a blunder. You imagine that Mr. Mallet, who is 
acquainted with all Paris, who knows all the minis 
ters, has need of that poor Emile to convey a letter 

to his friend N ? Truly, you must seem very 

innocent to persons who know how to deal with 
men. I do not mean to say that Mr. Mallet is 
not sincerely desirous of having me with him, 
but there is no necessity of his resorting to such 
little wire-pulling to obtain what is his right. One 
of two things is the case : either he does not desire 
it enough to obtain it and this will not prevent 
me from being pleased with him for having desired 
it to the degree he has or he has employed an 
outlandish manner of giving satisfaction to your 



During the Events of 1848. 141 

impatience. Therefore my poor Jules lias wasted 
the display of his republican incorruptibility to the 
doorkeepers of the Place Vendome. It was such 
an agreeable pastime for us to wax indignant over 
the corruption and nepotism of our contempora 
ries ! Hurry to find Emile, enter in spite of the 
doorkeepers whom you have already learned how 
to baffle and tell him to stay at home ; that I am 
always anxious that he should travel two leagues to 
come to see me, but that I do not want him to travel 
two steps to obtain for me anything whatsoever." 

The letter concludes with this advice addressed 
to his brother s faith and piety : 

" As for you, Jules, recollect yourself as much as 
you can. I acknowledge that it is very difficult for 
everybody, and that you more than other people 
have the obstacles of a very busy life to contend 
with ; but do what you can. Ten minutes of 
prayer are worth all the politics in the world, and, 
besides, prayer is the only true and sound politics, 
for there is a Providence that governs us. Impress 
well on your mind this beautiful saying, of Bos- 
suet I believe : Man vexes himself, and God leads 
him ; you will soon derive from it a calm of which 
you have long been deprived, and a wiser judgment 
of many events ; you will also interfere in my af 
fairs more to my liking; and, finally, I hope we 
shall have no more disagreements on any subject, 
as is becoming to brothers and Christians. Till 
we soon meet, A. CLEKC." 

"Do not delay going to thank Emile for his 
good- will, and to dispense him from it." 



142 Alexis Clerc. 

Meanwhile, Alexis perceived that his brother 
was not sufficiently on his guard against certain 
current ideas, which under the vague formulas 
that enveloped them favored socialism, and that 
his good faith had been surprised by the affectation 
of respecting his Catholic orthodoxy. The explana 
tions Jules gave only half satisfied him ; he took 
them up one by one, discussed them, examined 
them, and made it his duty to prove that if all 
veils, all equivocations are removed, these two 
contraries socialism and Christianity are abso 
lutely and radically irreconcilable. 

There is so much reason in these pages, so much 
serious good sense enlightened by faith, that we 
believe we shall gratify our readers by reproducing 
a large part of them. Assuredly, the doctrines of 
Fourier and Victer Conside"rant, as they were pro 
fessed in 1848, have no adepts in these days, and they 
may pass as superannuated in presence of less specu 
lative doctrines which have since made their mark 
with a certain eclat. But the principles of the errors 
whence the evil proceeds are the same, and they 
all agree on one point the denial of the superna 
tural. As to the principles which Clerc opposed 
to those dangerous Utopianisms, they are un 
changeable as truth is. 

It appears, then, that Mr. Jules Clerc had said : 
"I do not believe that religion ought to interfere 
in a direct manner in political questions, unless to 
keep constantly before our eyes the Gospel princi 
ples of morality and fraternity." 

" Very good," returns Alexis ; " let us borrow 



During the Events of 1848. 143 

infallible principles from the religious order, and 
let us build upon them ; we may easily deceive 
ourselves in particular cases, but we have good as 
surances of truth. You are in the right ; God has 
given us all that is necessary for our salvation, for 
our real good, and to this end he has provided not 
only in the order of grace, but also in the order of 
nature ; he has laid down natural principles and 
has commanded us to follow them, and if we will 
not we shall destroy instead of building up. 

" I beg you to excuse the digression I am now 
going to make ; it is not a direct reply to your let 
ter, but I am extremely anxious that you should 
not imagine religion to have a particular domain 
in which it must shut itself up, and that the pub 
lic welfare should be ruled by its own laws. On 
the contrary, religion is the universal law, and it 
ought to be the only law, for the only end of man 
is his salvation which depends solely upon religion. 
Creatures, nature, societies, are, and should be, 
only the means of attaining this end. 

"Now, man has fallen, and by his fall he has 
lost everything in the order of grace, and this con 
cerns only religion ; further, his nature has been 
corrupted, and this concerns the natural order and 
society. But by the Redemption he is capable of 
re-entering the state of grace and of overcoming 
the corruption of his nature. Hence results that 
the first condition of all society is religion, and it 
is impossible to name any society that has been left 
destitute of it. Corruption being the portion of 
every man, it is necessary that every man should 



144 Alexis Clerc. 

endeavor to overcome himself ; it is the greatest 
service he can render society. In consequence of 
this corruption society has the right of coercion 
over those who threaten its existence. Finally, 
man has on account of his fault been condemned 
to lahor and suffering, and He who pronounced 
the sentence will maintain it. 

" Very good ! Fourier and his disciples deny 
that man has fallen, and, supposing him to have 
come from the hands of God just as he is, declare 
him perfect, and would permit him to satisfy his 
most ardent passions and his most wayward de 
sires. As a philosophy it is easy to prove that this 
system is absurd, inasmuch as it overlooks the in 
most nature of our heart, and cannot explain pre 
sent and past evil. But our faith leads us to reject 
these follies. If man is bad, ^ hat can be more fool 
ish than to deal with him as though he were good ? 

" I saw V * on his return from Paris, and I 

reproached him for having deceived you. He de 
fended himself by saying that he had concealed 
nothing from you, and that, as it is possible to 
create the same system while starting from dif 
ferent principles, he had limited himself to pro 
posing to you those practical realizations without 
troubling himself about the principles that might 
serve as their basis in your judgment. In political 
matters, it seems, people occupy themselves a great 

* One of their friends, interested for a considerable time in 
socialistic doctrines, and of whom the 4th of September, 1870, 
when the Republic was declared in Paris after the battle of 
Sedan, did not iail to make a prefect. 



^During the Events of 1848. 145 

deal with facts and little with ideas. As for him, 
he plainly declared to me that the two principles 
the foundations of his projects of reform were 
that man was not fallen, and that after his death 
he would continue to merit eternally in anew and. 
different life. With these principles I agree that 
he is logical enough ; can you with contrary prin 
ciples be logical ? No, I have already told you so ; 
your good faith has been surprised. 

" You say, Fourier s ideas on the organization 
of society are beautiful, inasmuch as they turn in 
dividual egotism, when they do not destroy it, to 
the well-being of all. As to their beauty, we shall 
see about that later; as to their falsity, we shall 
discover that immediately. Labor must become a 
pleasure ~by the attraction which organization ivill 
know how to attach to it. Our conscience tells us 
loudly that this cannot be ; but what reply has 
Fourier to these words : Cursed is the earth in 
thy work ; with labor and toil thou shalt eat there 
of (its fruits) all the days of thy life ; thorns and 
thistles shall it bring forth to thee, and thou shalt 
eat the herbs of the earth. In the sweat of thy 
face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return to the 
earth out of which thou wast taken ; for dust thou 
art, and into dust shalt thou return (Genesis, iii. 
17-19). After this shall we have the credulity to 
rely upon his promises of a terrestrial paradise ? 
Let us never forget this terrible sentence which 
weighs upon humanity, and of which all our mo 
dern prophets want to relieve us. 

"Is it beautiful to perfect gluttony to the de- 



146 Alexis Clcrc. 

gree of eating, I believe, six hearty meals a day ? to 
permit sensuality to cast off all restraint ? to grant 
to the lowest instincts satisfactions which even our 
actual corruption cannot think of without blush 
ing ? You talk of the means which Fourier would 
use to destroy selfishness ; but there are none others, 
in his opinion, save the free development of man s 
passions ! Moreover, he does not desire to destroy 
selfishness ; he would be very sorry to have it de 
stroyed, because he needs the development of all 
the heart of man contains; but he utilizes it. 
That is not overstupid ; still, until now I have sup 
posed that God alone was capable of drawing good 
from evil. 

" Finally, I conclude with the last phrase of 
your first sheet : Solidarity is a Christian senti 
ment, and I do not believe it will be inapplicable in 
the course of time. 

"This phrase has not been well reflected. So 
lidarity is not a sentiment, it is a law by which 
men are responsible, the ones for the others, for 
the good or evil they have done. The Fourierites 
give the name of unityism to what you mean, and 
three months ago you would with us have called it 
charity, which certainly is, as you say, a Christian 
sentiment, and so Christian that it does not exist 
outside of Christianity. This makes me think that 
the course of time will not render it applicable if the 
world does not become Christian, and that if God 
grants us the grace to be Christian, it will be, 
whatever the time, applicable and even applied. 
You will say that I apply it very little and that all 



During the Events of 1 848. 147 

this is very severe ; if it wounds you, I sincerely 
beg your pardon. The importance of the questions 
raised by your few lines justifies, perhaps, my eager 
ness to have you examine deceptive novelties with 
more deliberation." 

Accurately spoken, it seems to us. Doubtless 
this argumentation, borrowing all its majors from 
the truths of faith, would not convert a blind dis 
ciple of Fourier, but it had its weight with the ex 
cellent Catholic to whom it was addressed. Alexis 
did not ask of reason, too often straitened for de 
cisive proofs, what faith gives abundantly to who 
ever has the happiness of believing. The practical 
bent of his mind is manifested in this discussion, 
in which he does not seek to shine, but to convince 
as a man who knows the value of souls, and to 
whom the soul of his brother is especially dear. 

We must note the impression which the voting 
of the 10th of December, 1848, made upon him. 

The election of Prince Napoleon to the presi 
dency by five millions of voices disagreeably sur 
prised him, and it required time for him to recover 
from what he called "a rude shock to his political 
sagacity." He had voted for Cavaignac, not 
through republicanism, but through sincerity in 
his acceptance of the political system legally estab 
lished, and also through a generous reaction against 
the odious calumnies for which the incorruptible 
general had furnished no pretext. He experienced 
an instinctive repugnance for his princely competi 
tor, who always appeared to him as the adventurer 
of Boulogne and Strasbourg with blood upon his 



148 Alexis Clerc. 

hands. ... We will not repeat the extremely harsh 
expressions he used to brand him ; doubtless pity 
would have softened them after the immense disas 
ter wherein that man was wrecked with the fortunes 
of France. But we cannot pass over this bitter cry, 
too well justified by the state of prostration and 
torpor to which revolutions bring us : "My grief 
is to see the whole country disown itself by mak 
ing a choice which is a refusal of choosing when 
obliged to choose. It is the suicide of a great 
nation ; it disowns its greatness." 

Bat perhaps there were more avowable motives 
for the choice for example, the love of military 
glory, of which Napoleon is our symbol. The mili 
tary spirit is so deeply impressed on the French 
character, it is not absurd to believe that it was it 
which spoke. Upon this Alexis adds, with good 
reason, what people would not understand in 1848 
or in 1852, and what we now know only too well : 
" This would be very deplorable, very unfortunate. 
If this were the signification of Louis Bonaparte, 
then there would open a new era of interminable 
wars with all Europe." 

Another hypothesis : We are not republicans ; 
they want to manage a return to the monarchy ; 
in three years a new constituency will decree the 
monarchy, and universal suffrage will call Henry V. 
to the throne. " If this is what they want," Alexis 
adds, " it is legitimate, and I will cheerfully sub 
mit. But it does not make it less deplorable that 
all those monarchists should be ranged around 
. such a name." 



During the Events of 1848. 149 

Such were the politics of this fervent and in 
trepid Christian at a period when it was so difficult 
to see clearly, and to fulfil without trouble as well 
as without weakness the duties of a good citizen. 
Let us acknowledge that he was not so badly in 
spired by his inviolable attachment to Catholic 
truth, whose consequences reach far beyond the 
sphere assigned to it by superficial minds or those 
of equivocal sincerity. 

Ah ! if we were guided by principles, then the 
world would not see us turning now to the right 
and now to the left, and our loyalty would never 
be false to itself, when even it should be put to the 
rudest trials by the errors and faults of a govern 
ment we had not chosen and with which we had 
but little sympathy. 



CHAPTER Y. 

EXPERIMENTS IN EPISTOLARY CONTROVERSY. 

IN the course of March, 1848, Alexis wrote to his 
father : 

" MY VEEY DEAE FATHER : Your kind and 
most affectionate letter afforded me great pleasure, 
and I propose to prove my gratitude by a de 
tailed reply. 

"We guessed long ago that you continued in 
business only for the sake of having us enjoy your 
success. We understood that tenderness which ob 
stacles could not discourage ; but it was just and 
natural that our affection should be occupied with 
you who forgot yourself, and that we should wish 
you to enjoy repose after so laborious a life. We 
perfectly understood that you were not one of 
those empty men who, when released from the ex 
citement of a business life and reduced to them 
selves, are reduced to nothing. Your repose, which 
you would well know how to hinder from being 
idle, would be sweet and useful. 

"It is quite true that you will not have for the 
reward of your business life even the golden mean, 
the sufficiency that is neither wealth nor poverty ; 
allow me, to call things by their right names: 
your greatness of soul will not render the priva- 

150 



Epistolary Controversy. 151 

tion a cruel one. Now that the ice is broken, I 
want to speak what has been in our hearts for such 
a long time admiration for the strength and energy 
of your character, for your quiet and dignified 
resignation to your bad luck. We are under obli 
gations to you, dear father, for one of the best 
examples of that true greatness of soul which is 
neither the insensibility of stoicism nor the pride 
of the philosopher who wears a ragged cloak. If 
respect has hitherto prevented us from telling you 
what your sons and your friends think, it is per 
haps better to keep silence no longer if we desire 
a less reserved intercourse. 

" It is not upon the chances of fortune that I 
found the hope of greater happiness in our family, 
but upon our qualities ; I believe this is the best 
foundation." 

Evidently the father to whom such a son speaks 
in this way has neither a small mind nor a vulgar 
soul. How deeply Alexis must regret that their 
mutual sympathy, so perfect on all other subjects, 
does not exist in regard to religion ! Until now he 
has very rarely touched upon this delicate point, and 
always with a thousand precautions and a visible 
embarrassment, feeling well that between his faith 
and that soul so dearly beloved there is a whole 
world of prejudices. But he will keep up such re 
serve no longer ; he has decided to break the ice. The 
occasion is favorable ; his worthy father, now freed 
from the bustle of a business life, is not the man 
to rest idle, and what he needs henceforth to em 
ploy the leisure of his old age is a mental occupa- 



152 Alexis Clerc. 

tion suited to the height of his generous aspira 
tions. What nobler use could he make of his time 
than to consecrate the larger part of it to the study 
of religion, which, as Bossuet says, is " the all of 
man " ? Upon this Alexis plan is made, and with 
out further delay he begins its execution. Let us 
remember that it is March, 1848. The condition 
of minds at that period, the confident attitude 
too confident, without doubt of Catholics in the 
presence of a liberty whose intoxication was soon 
to produce terrible effects, serves as an introduc 
tion to the subject, and leads naturally to the fol 
lowing reflections : 

u I hope the cordial and spontaneous adherence 
of the Catholic clergy to the popular movement 
will have calmed the enrooted susceptibilities of 
which it is too often the object. I hope, also, 
that the men who do not think as we do will cease 
to regard us as enemies of the state and of liberty. 
Our state religion was (a singular contradiction) 
under suspicion in the state ; nobody is ignorant 
of how mistrustful and timorous the legislator has 
been in regard to it. 

"Ought not these fears to be quieted since the 
pulpit echoes only the word liberty ? In Eome, 
in Paris,* in discourses and writings years before 
you stirred up revolutions, the Church seemed to 
have a predilection for this theme of liberty in re 
ligion and by religion. Her orators, her most dis 
tinguished authors, devoted themselves to this 

* Father Ventura, Father Lacordaire, etc. 



Epistolary Controversy. 153 

question. In reading them can we help feeling 
that they are inspired with the true Christian 
spirit ? can we help seeing those accusations of a 
tendency to despotism and brutish authority which 
are made against their doctrine vanish in smoke ? 
Oh ! the beautiful, the eternally beautiful task of 
demonstrating that we owe all liberty, all political 
prosperity, to the Church, even as we owe superna 
tural and moral truth to her. I possess neither 
the learning nor the talents necessary to undertake 
such a task ; it is reserved for some great mind. 
But I am firmly convinced of the fact. I think, dear 
father, that this vast field of study will not be 
without attraction to you. Allow me to mention 
some works which you can easily procure from the 
public libraries and which will afford you the first 
information on the subject. 

" There are two ways of treating this matter. 
The one is philosophical, taking facts in their 
cause and studying Christian doctrine in its 
relations to the civil constitution. This method of 
looking at the question from above easily attains 
to a majestic dignity, because it moves above events 
and is unshackled by time, places, and circum 
stances ; it has, moreover, the advantage of being 
brief, consequently sacred orators adopt it. You 
have already enjoyed the magnificent funeral ora 
tions of Fathers Ventura and Lacordaire ; you 
will not less enjoy the conferences given this year 
in Notre Dame by the Abbe Bautain. 

"We may also with history in our hand verify 
in the facts themselves the influence of the Chris- 



154 Alexis Clerc. 

tian religion upon Europe. The long era of eigh 
teen centuries may advantageously be divided into 
four periods. The first extends from Jesus Christ 
to the fall of the Roman Empire; the second 
reaches to Luther; the third to the year 1789; and 
the last to our day. As to the first of these pe 
riods, all good historians prove superabundantly 
the excellence of the Christian influence ; never 
theless, in order that the result may be absolutely 
unanswerable, it may perhaps be well to also read 
Gibbon, who, strongly opposed to Christianity, en 
deavors to prove that it was established ID the world 
by purely human means. 

" The second, period is illustrated by two emi 
nent works, which are amply sufficient, Guizot s 
History of Civilization in France and Catholi 
cism Compared with Protestantism/ by the Abbe 
James Balmes ; thus, made with a Protestant and a 
Catholic, the study will be quite impartial. How 
ever, the Catholic is a Spaniard, and it will some 
times be necessary to excuse the zeal he shows for 
his country. 

"These two works will also throw great light 
upon the third period. Nevertheless, you will 
need to gain directly from the study of facts infor 
mation concerning what is not treated of in these 
works ; at least, for my part, I do not know of any 
other books wherein the labor is all done. Final 
ly, since 89, if we do not impute to her the things 
awkward friends have tried to do for her, religion 
will come forth stainless, and frequently resplen 
dent, from all investigations. But the fable of the 



Epistolary Controversy. 155 

Bear and the Lover of Gardens should not be 
forgotten by the Restoration. After Laving seen 
the throne and the altar which had endured for so 
long a time fall together, men thought that by 
leaning the one against the other they would be 
mutually supported. Grievous error ! the throne 
had the support of the altar, but the altar is the 
institution of God, and needs no support from hu 
man governments.* Whether the state be monar- 
chial or republican, the altar will remain for ever; 
it is superior to and mightier than all revolutions. 
Perhaps we needed the Restoration to remind us 
that the tree of Christianity has its roots not plant 
ed in the earth, and that no earthly power can 
either destroy or strengthen it." 

We see how Alexis manages ; he enters by his 
father s door so as to come out by his own, and he 
is extremely cautious not to frighten away that 
emeritus freethinker. Plainly, it is in consequence 
of these tactics, necessary, perhaps, under the cir 
cumstances, that Gibbon is permitted to figure in 
such good company on a programme of apologetic 
studies Gibbon, whom Mr. Guizot had not 
thought he could publish in French without ac 
companying him with notes that are a sort of re 
futation. But Alexis was not wrong in thinking 



* There are in this assertion inexactitudes which Alexis will 
correct after a while. Because the altar can exist quite alone 
by virtue from on high, it does not follow that governments 
owe it no support, no protection, and that the agreement of 
the two powers is not very desirable. Besides, it must be 
confessed that under the Restoration the Church had awk- 
ward friends whose faults were skilfully made use of by the 
revolutionary Machiavelism. 



I $6 Alexis Clerc. 

that Mr. Guizot s own works, provided those of 
Balmes were added as a corrective, were a good 
enough evangelical preparation for a mind imbued 
with the wholly negative philosophy of the eigh 
teenth century. How did Mr. Clerc receive this 
overture ? Probably with rather a bad grace, and 
the following letter allows us a glimpse of the pre 
judices Alexis had to deal with: 

" MY DEAR FATHER : It is now more than eight 
days since I first sat down before this sheet of pa 
per with my pen iu my hand, and yet I have 
written nothing. The importance I attach to what 
I want to say to you, and the difficulty of saying it 
well, are sufficient reasons to explain my dread of 
undertaking it. But I make an effort, and, aban 
doning myself to God s grace, I will speak to you 
heart to heart. Am I not addressing you, my kind 
father, whose love has made so many sacrifices for 
me, and after so many proofs of your love shall I 
hesitate to rely upon its causing you to take in 
good part what, with a good intention, I may say 
that is inexact or misplaced ? Is not my object to 
unite our hearts more closely by giving them a 
more entire conformity one with the other ? 

"I thank you for your letter of September 27, 
but permit me to complain that you do not talk 
about yourself, at least not enough and as I would 
like. What I want is to be made a sharer of those 
thoughts which we think to ourselves, which we 
conceal from the indiscreet and indifferent, which 
it is so sweet to communicate to a true friend. 

" I look in vain among those that are about you; 



Epistolary Controversy. 157 

there is no one to receive your confidences, dear 
father. You have only your sons, but they are not 
yet your friends, for you tell them exterior things 
and not the interior. Ah 1 well, I beg you to 
treat us as friends ; have no fear, that will not 
make us forget that we are your sons. I know 
very well that this confidence cannot be command 
ed, it must be given spontaneously. Perhaps, 
however, the first effort will be the last, and you 
will afterwards find this intimacy easy and natural. 
How I wish we might seem to you worthy of it, 
and that we might in every respect deserve the 
beautiful title of staffs of your old age ! 

"Would you deem it presumption for us to 
claim that honor ? But have not we also lived 
long enough to understand the questions that may 
arise in a soul like yours ? What human ambition 
remains to you ? Have you not had experience 
enough to know that all calculations are unable to 
guide man to his end ? Who better than you 
knows the instability, the impalpability, and, to 
speak candidly and like a Frenchman, the vanity 
of all that our efforts exhaust themselves to attain ? 
Finally, when I think of your retired life, without 
material enjoyments and without distraction, I am 
sure that you reflect profoundly on those great ques 
tions which only the happy can forget for a time. 

"Yes, most certainly such is your secret 
thought, your inmost thought, and it is what I 
want from you ; the rest belongs to the kindness 
to which I can respond only by gratitude ; to this 
I will respond with all the powers of my being. 



158 Alexis Clerc. 

" Man s destiny, and the means of accomplish 
ing it behold the double problem which weighs 
upon us until we accept the solution religion gives! 
And there is no way of escaping it, of withdrawing 
from it ; if we are ignorant of our destiny we will 
fail to attain it, and likewise if we are ignorant of 
the means of attaining it. To say that man has 
no destiny is to say that he was made for nothing, 
and as we cannot imagine that his Creator made 
him without an object, it is to suppose him created 
by nothing or by chance. Not to seek the means 
of fulfilling our destiny is to suppose that means 
haye nothing to do with it, or that we will fulfil it 
whatever we do, or compulsively, as the earth 
moves round the sun ; and if we are created for an 
end, our duty is then equally fulfilled by vice or 
virtue, which consequently are indifferent matters. 

tf There certainly are some men who defend 
these follies, but it is not ^ell proven that they be 
lieve what they defend. 

" Nevertheless, there is no lack of light by 
which to examine these capital questions, and the 
number of proofs that firmly establish their solu 
tions is, so to speak, infinite. History, the sacred 
writings, tradition, are the arsenal where they are 
stored. One has only to enter ; each will certainly 
find the reason that will determine his consent, at 
least if he does not stop up the ears of his soul. 

" I never forget what you said to me in talking 
of Father Lacordaire namely, that in spite of 
the beauty and strength of his thoughts and the 
force of his logic, there were many objections to 



Epistolary Controversy. 159 

oppose to him ; but that, after all, it was no easier 
to oppose objections to a book than to a preacher. 
It is not astonishing that we have objections to 
oppose to the truths we are even surest of. There 
is not one that we most thoroughly hold which is 
not open to objections on sides where we are not 
master of it. We must resign ourselves to this and 
use things as we have them, sow the wheat al 
though we are ignorant of how it shoots up, put 
the bread in the oven although we are ignorant of 
how it bakes, and eat it although we are ignorant 
of how it nourishes us. 

" Still, we must not think that by a sort of 
legerdemain the apologists get rid of difficulties, and 
by artifice escape the necessity of answering them. 
I am convinced of their ingenuousness and that 
when asked they always conscientiously state the 
difficulty just as it is, their faith, their religion 
being pledged not to dissimulate. Therefore it is 
with confidence I tell you that all those objections 
can be answered, and that you can easily see all 
it is given man to see. It will be enough for you 
to simply expose your difficulties to a doctor of our 
law. 

" The Church possesses men whose varied talents 
and qualities render them useful to the needs of 
each individual. If there are priests who are not 
much of metaphysicians, nor much of orators, who 
only know how to love God very much and to tell 
men who already have faith how to make it fruit 
ful and draw from it a more and more lively charity, 
there are also others who are more learned and 



160 Alexis Clerc. 

more philosophical than the world s scholars and 
philosophers, who seem to be intended expressly for 
people who seek the faith they have not, and who 
suffer from not believing. .They are acquainted 
with all those objections, and know what they are 
worth. Do not fear to find in them that naked 
and simple faith which does not desire to see clearly 
for fear of no longer seeing at all. It is an exceed 
ingly inexact prejudice to imagine that the perfec 
tion of a Christian consists in believing without mo 
tives. Certainly we must believe that is to say, ad 
mit things that are not proven; but we must admit 
nothing save from very powerful motives. If a 
thoughtless discussion is dangerous, if it is at least 
useless to raise in the minds of simple and ignorant 
persons difficulties which their simplicity and ig 
norance will not allow them to solve, there is per 
haps nothing more useful than an enlightened 
faith that renders a thorough account of itself, and 
this may be found in numerous priests and apolo 
gists. It is what you want. I earnestly beg you, 
iear father, to read the work of a Mr. Nicolas, en 
titled Philosophical Studies upon Christianity, 
which Jules must get for me. I hope that you 
will discover in it the solidity of the foundations of 
our belief. 

" I cannot tell you how anxious I am that you 
should share our faith. It is this violent desire 
which urges me to introduce without your invita 
tion these delicate matters between us. But should 
I not excite you with my utmost strength to seek 
happiness where it is to be found ? You will not 



Epistolary Controversy. 161 

impute all this to the vain pleasure of playing the 
wise and learned; you will believe,, is it not so ? that 
I obey the voice of my heart." 

It is evident the heart only has spoken, and its 
eloquence must make an impression on the old 
man who had such positive proof of the respectful 
and devoted affection of his noble son. Mr. Clerc 
does not refuse to set himself to the study, and he 
affirms that he has not taken sides against the 
truth. To hear him, he puts no obstacle in the way 
of grace. 

" My dear father," Alexis wrote, " you tell me 
at the first start all the best that can be told that 
you are disposed to yield to grace, that you oppose 
to it neither bad will nor indifference. Ah ! my 
G-od, this is all man can do; it is God who does 
the rest, and he will certainly do it if you perse 
vere in your disposition, perhaps, and even proba 
bly, not by a miracle, but by a gentler means which 
will respect your will and leave you more of the 
merit of so difficult a step. Your heart, one day 
docile to his inspiration, will adhere to the faith, 
and objections will vanish like fog before the rays 
of the sun." 

But, meanwhile, objections arrive from all quar 
ters. Here is one of them which Alexis gently 
removes. Had Mr. Clerc read Jean Reynaud ? 
I do not know, but, like him, he imagined that our 
planet is not the only one inhabited, and the des 
tiny of the inhabitants of the other spheres seemed 
to him a problem quite inexplicable from the point 
of view of Christian dogma. 



1 62 Alexis Clerc. 

" Your opinion about the population of the other 
globes/ Alexis wrote, "is in nowise a sacrilege ; it 
is an opinion whieh one is perfectly free to hold 
or not to hold. But there would then exist be 
tween those intelligent beings and ourselves rela 
tions of which we are ignorant, but of which they 
would not be ignorant, and there would be no diffi 
culty in that. The work of G-od being a whole, its 
parts must be co-ordinate, and we are acquainted 
with matter while it is not acquainted with us." 

Mr. Clerc is a deist ; natural religion suffices 
him, and whatever Father Lacordaire may say 
about it, he does not conceive the necessity of a re 
velation. 

"I come to your profession of faith," Alexis 
writes to him. " I also recognize that doctrine to 
be as grand as it is true, and I with the whole 
Church adhere to it completely. I think with you 
that it has been, and that it is still, a creed adopted 
by a large portion of mankind. Many Christian 
philosophers have been pleased to find it in the tra 
ditions of all nations; they have drawn from it 
a powerful argument in favor of a primitive re 
ligion which all the races carried away with 
them when they separated from their trunk. If, 
then, Father Lacordaire means by his assertion 
that said doctrine is, perhaps, historically the one 
which has the least consistence and vitality, that it 
is an isolated fact, I am not of his opinion, and I 
range myself on your side. 

cc But if he means that it has never expressed it- 
eelf by any great historical fact, that it is incapable 



Epistolary Controversy. 163 

of doing so, that it is inefficacious, and that it has 
no fecundity, I range myself on his side. I see no 
political or social institution that can result from 
it. On the contrary, I see them resulting from all 
other creeds." 

We omit the developments. Alexis points out 
the institutions that have sprung from theocracy, 
Catholicism, etc., and he always returns to this 
conclusion, one which agrees with history : Deism 
is incapable of manifesting itself ~by institutions. 
Moreover, deism, as we are acquainted with it, is 
not the fruit of reason alone, but owes immensely 
to the Christian revelation. Therefore he deceives 
himself who believes he can with impunity disdain 
the help of that supernatural and divine light. 

Meanwhile our young ensign receives new orders. 
He embarks on the Pelican, and the little island of 
Indret, in the Loire, becomes his habitual resi 
dence. 

" Now," he writes to his brother, " you ask me 
what the Pelican is, and what it does. Here is an 
account : The Pelican is a charming little iron 
steamer, not warlike in the least ; it is as useful as 
it is pretty. Its business is to try the screws used 
as propellers. "We are now at Indret, and we are 
preparing to take some screws upon which we will 
experiment at Paimboeuf. The duty that de- 
yolves upon me is almost nothing, and I have 
scarcely anything better to do than to study for 
,my own profit." 

We shall see presently whether he wasted his 
time. This change gives rise to reflections which, 



164 Alexis Clerc. 

under a playful air, conceal a thoroughly Christian 
philosophy. 

" There, now, I think you are sufficiently 
posted ; I have nothing more to tell you, and if 
you please we will have a chat. I had made 
my nest at Brest ; I had my habits, my manias 
perhaps. I am beginning to be something of an 
old bachelor. My life had little by little filled up 
with all sorts of obligations, and, without having 
anything to do, I was very busy. But you know 
how it is with me ; and this is why I so much ad 
mire people who are always disengaged in spite of 
the burden of their occupations, people like 
Madame Pag&s. In fine, taking all in all, I flattered 
myself that I was in quite comfortable quarters, 
and I lived tranquil and happy. Why should I 
not acknowledge it ? Cheaply happy, if you will, 
but nevertheless happy. I would gladly give you 
a detailed description if I could by word of mouth. 
Behold ! suddenly I have my table cleared ; I must 
construct a new existence to see it in a short time 
stored away like the preceding one, in the shop 
where they keep last month s moons. You will 
make fun of me if I tell you that I have discovered 
that all things pass away very quickly, and if I talk 
to you of the flower of the fields. What is sure is 
that sailors often have it in their power to verify 
this kind of sayings. 

" Again, it is sure that when one limits himself 
to this conclusion he has not advanced very far, 
and to be logical he must draw from it this other 
consequence, which is quite as new : it is wise to 



Epistolary Controversy. i65> 

provide one s self with a nest that would not be 
shaken by every wind. This is very well, but the 
difficulty is to find such a one. 

" I was well off at Brest, I am perhaps better 
off here ; nevertheless, I am completely disarranged. 
What, then, would become of me if I should 
meet with some misfortune ? For a long while I 
have only labored to advance myself towards that 
happy state wherein all these events do not affect 
us, but I have not succeeded." 

He found his nest at Indret without much 
trouble. There was everything for him in being 
the assistant of so distinguished a man as Lieuten 
ant (now Admiral) Bourgois. Clerc appreciated 
still more the advantage of finding in that officer a 
great comformity of sentiments on all essential 
points. In addition to this, the little island of 
Indret was a charming abode, where he could satisfy 
to his heart s content both his need of activity and 
his attraction for solitude. His windows looked 
out upon the vast buildings appropriated to the 
foundry, the forges, the tools, etc., and thence 
without any other distraction he could follow in 
the diversity of their labors seven to eight hundred 
workmen occupied from morning to night in con 
structing, under the direction of skilful engineers, 
all the parts of the superb engines for steam navi 
gation. A portion of these workmen formed the 
fixed population of the island ; the others, the 
greater number of them, lived on the left bank of 
the river, which was connected with the island by 
a causeway. A fleet of boats transported from one 



1 66 Alexis Clerc. 

bank to the other those who had their dwellings, 
on the right bank, either at Basse-Indre or at 
Coueron. The director and the higher function 
aries of the establishment lived in a chateau, for 
Indret possesses a chateau which goes back to the 
feudal period, and which, falling into ruins, was 
rebuilt by the Duke de Mercoeur in the closing 
years of the sixteenth century. In 1650 the queen 
regent, Anne of Austria, gave it to Abraham 
Duquesne, who, with a fleet equipped at his own 
expense, had routed the soldiers of La Fronde and 
decided the surrender of Bordeaux. But much 
more ancient and precious memories are attached 
to the visits of a holy personage to the island, 
where he built himself an oratory. Hermeland, 
born at Hoyon, in Picardy, towards the middle of 
the seventh century, was the founder of the mon 
astery of Aindre, situated on the right bank of the 
Loire, in the district that includes at the present 
day the parish and corporation of Basse-Indre. 
Several times a year, especially in Lent, that great 
lover of solitude withdrew to the little island of 
Aindrette (Indret), to devote himself with full 
liberty to prayer and the exercises of penance. 
Such was the origin of the hermitage, which a 
faithful historian describes as follows : " This con 
struction is composed of two towers close against 
one another and built of rough stones admirably 
cemented together. They are surmounted by an 
oblong platform representing the figure 8> to which 
the visitor ascends by a staircase winding round the 
monument. The platform is covered, doubtless 



Epistolary Controversy. 167 

for the sake of preserving it, with a thick coat of 
mastic. The two towers communicate from the 
interior, but each of them has a separate exterior 
door. From the platform there is a magnificent 
v i ew the Loire, the country on its right and left 
banks, Coueron, Pellerin, Basse-Indre, etc. The 
eye takes in an immense horizon, a vast extent of 
territory, a superb sheet of water." * 

Previous to 1844 Indret had no church. To as 
sist at the divine offices its inhabitants were ob 
liged to cross the broad arm of the Loire which 
separated them from their parish of Basse-Indre, 
or reach with great difficulty the market town of 
Saint Jean-de-Boisseau, nearly three miles distant. 
At last the necessity of bringing the helps of re 
ligion a little nearer to them was understood. A 
hydraulic machine shop was converted into a 
chapel, and shortly afterwards raised to a paro 
chial church. It was blessed by Monseigneur de 
Herce, Bishop of Nantes, who placed it under the 
invocation of St. Hermeland, the natural patron of 
the island, and of St. Anne, the cherished patroa- 
ess of the Bretons. 

There were schools at Indret a professional 
school for the instruction of the young workmen, 
an elementary school for the apprentices, primary 
schools for the boys and girls, and finally, an 
asylum. Alexis found there, as well as at Brest, 
all he needed to live in imitation of St, Vincent de 



* " Indret." By M. Babron, Inspector of the Administra 
tive Services of the Navy (" The Imperial Establishments of 
the French.Navy "). 



168 Alexis Clerc. 

Paul the poor, the ignorant, and children. To 
these let us add the sick, for the marshy exhala 
tions on the banks of the Loire engender malarial 
fevers which prevail in that section from spring to 
autumn. Is it astonishing, now, if in that little 
corner of the earth he was able to display a great 
activity of zeal and charity ? 

But having his correspondence before us, we 
might suppose, to judge from the length and 
gravity of his letters wherein so many questions 
are brought up in turn and sometimes treated ex- 
professo, that he lived all this time like a Bene 
dictine in the furthest corner of a cell abundantly 
lined with books. At all events, excursions on the 
Loire occupied his thoughts less than the reading 
of St. Augustine and St. Thomas. 

Once, however, learning that his father had 
passed long and wearisome hours at the bedside of 
his sick brother, he changes his theme and offers 
an agreeable diversion by writing what follows : 

" Madame de S tells me that Jules is sick. 

The disease is not dangerous, and requires princi 
pally that care should be taken to protect him 
from the cold. Still, dear father, I hope you will 
keep me informed. It is not very far from Nantes 
to you, and I could do my part as sick-nurse. 
Nevertheless, I imagine you are not too much oc 
cupied to read what you asked me about the Peli 
can. 

tk The steam-screw is made exactly like a cork 
screw. Suppose a screw to be attached to a vessel, 
and that the water resists it as a solid body 



Epistolary Controversy. 169 

would ; then the vessel will advance with each 
turn of the screw just as if it were fastened to an 
ordinary one that penetrated a fixed nut. But the 
water, instead of resisting the screw like a fixed 
nut, yields a little to the pressure it receives, 
and in one revolution, instead of advancing its 
whole thread, the screw advances only, let us say, 
eighty per cent., as if it had advanced its whole 
thread in a nut which had at the same time re 
coiled twenty per cent, of the thread of the screw. 
In this case we say that the screw has twenty per 
cent, of recoil." 

He bravely pursues his demonstration, compar 
ing the pitch of the thread in the screw of the pro 
peller to that of the ordinary screw, and explain 
ing how a fraction of its thread suffices a screw to 
exercise a very efficacious pressure on the water. 
We will not follow him in this explanation wherein 
he brings science down to the capacity of the pro 
fane, like an amiable and always gay vulgarizer. 
He concludes with considerations upon the advan 
tages of screw vessels, especially those intended for 
tow-boats. He says: " This is what we have proved 
in three voyages we have made to Brest, towing 
three brigs a great deal larger than ourselves. The 
Pelican kills two birds with one stone : she does a 
heavy business, while at the same time she studies 
and announces results which are of the highest im 
portance." 

But he does not lose sight of his principal ob 
ject, and he returns to it as soon as he can, as we 
learn from the following letter ; 



170 Alexis Clerc. 



FATHER : I hope now that our good 
Jules is not only out of danger, but progressing in 
a convalescence whose tediousness you are reliev 
ing. The faithful watch you keep over him re 
minds me how you were once my sick-nurse. 
Jules good disposition will repay your kind care 
better than I did. The ill-nature of the patient 
whom nothing satisfies, and who never thinks that 
enough is done for him, is not one of the least 
troubles of the nurse. 

" I have thought I might resume our serious 
correspondence, and that you are not too preoc 
cupied to follow it. I have already another letter 
nearly finished, which will probably be mailed to 
morrow. It is the beginning of an { Apology for 
the Patriarchs, which I translate from St. Augus 
tine. As it will be long, I economize time by send 
ing the translation just as I have first written it, 
perhaps a little obscure sometimes, and in any sort 
of French ; there will very likely be some miscon 
structions of the Latin text. However, I do as well 
as I can. It would be better if I had wholly 
translated, then revised my translation ; then I 
could send it to you all at once. But this would 
have been an interminable job, and I do not know 
if I would have had the courage to persevere. By 
means of immediate and numerous forwardings I 
divide my business into little portions which have 
the advantage of abridging my task. I take it all 
from the work against Faustus the Manichean. 
You know that that heresy was perhaps the most 
criminal of all, and nothing is more legitimate than 



Epistolary Controversy. 171 

the severity with which St. Augustine denounces 
its sophisms. 

" As you are perfectly free from the errors of 
those unfortunate people, although they made al 
most the same objections as you on the subject 
of the patriarchs, you will understand that you 
must leave to them what belongs only to them 
which I have not been careful to omit. 

" I have equally commenced a reply to Jutes, 
whose long letter proves tangibly his sanitary im 
provement." 

The translation of St. Augustine is accompanied 
by this short preface : 

" Although at first sight, my dear father, your 
opinion on the subject of the patriarchs may be very 
natural and I frankly confess that I held the 
same for a long time I have no fear that you will 
preserve it after the plea I am going to make ; and 
if I am so confident, it is because I take this plea 
entirely from St. Augustine, and because I shall 
give you the commentary and development of that 
passage of the Confessions which seemed ob 
scure to you " (1. iii. c. vii.) 

The discussion then is thoroughly on foot. Mr. 
Clerc reads St. Augustine s Confessions " ; he also 
reads the Bible ; he also reads, pen in hand, the 
" Philosophical Studies " of Auguste Nicolas ; but 
these readings, to which he lends himself with a cer 
tain good-will, he pursues, nevertheless, with the 
inveterate prejudices of a too faithful disciple of 
Voltaire. Objections spring up in crowds in his 
mind, renewing each moment the task of his son 



172 Alexis Clerc. 

who continues to acquit himself of it with the best 
heart and the best grace in the world. Alexis had 
not badly chosen in taking . his reply from St. 
Augustine s lengthy treatise against Faustus ; he 
thus convinced his father that the great doctor was 
very capable of defending himself, and that his 
reasoning, sometimes obscure from excessive con 
ciseness, was always just and solid, as could be 
proved by referring to the writings in which he had 
leisure to develop it. 

We need not say that we do not intend to re 
produce Alexis translation, which fills more than 
thirty-two pages of fine writing, and embraces 
almost forty chapters of St. Augustine s work. 
Mr. Glerc is astonished at such an ardor of zeal ; 
he thinks there is a plan of doing him violence and 
carrying him off by storm. Alexis has some diffi 
culty in reassuring him. 

He writes: "Certainly what I desire more than 
anything else in the world is to see you share our 
religious faith, and you are sufficiently acquainted 
with the Catholic religion to know that if it were 
otherwise it would be a sign, that I had lost that 
faith. 

"You ought, then, to perceive that I do not 
take a road which seems the shortest in the world 
to lead you to it. In the first place, I repeat that 
I have not that pretension. To induce on your 
part conscientious meditations is what I propose to 
myself principally ; then, here and there some suc 
cess on isolated subjects. This is almost the limit 
of my ambition. I know from experience how the 



Epistolary Controversy. 173 

road you have to travel must be gone over ; noth 
ing is further from me than a wish to seize upon 
your will- by main force. If you already felt 
inclined to believe, I should endeavor with all my 
efforts to determine your inclination ; but for the 
present I keep myself, and desire to remain, 
although it be more wearisome, in controversy. 
For we who have for a longer or shorter time 
rejected all faith, we cannot at once return to a 
simple, unquestioning faith, which in some sort is 
unconscious of itself, and is not aware of the diffi- 
culties of what is proposed to it to believe ; our 
faith must be conscious of itself, and must not be 
afraid of facing the greatest difficulties. Its merit 
musb consist in appreciating those difficulties and 
surmounting them by an effort of the will. All 
your objections are and will be well received ; I 
would, if* necessary, suggest them to you, to the 
end that your decision, which I sincerely hope will 
come some day, might be enlightened, firm, and 
immovable. It is impossible to understand our 
mysteries perfectly. You will have no more ob 
jections to make only when you shall have a lively 
faith. But notwithstanding the obscurity of the 
mysteries, notwithstanding the difficulties of the 
unanswered objections, it is probable that you will 
some day have enough light in your soul to be 
lieve." 

Here is a letter in which he talks a little about 
everything first about marriage ; it is his least 
anxiety, and his friends tease him to make known 
what will be his final resolution on the subject : 



1/4 Alexis Clerc. 

" I have for the present no desire for marriage, 
and I have done no more here than lend myself to 
what an active friendship exacts of me. I have 
not been able to go to Nantes since I wrote you, 
and I should be greatly astonished if that plan 
came to anything, for the reason, among others, 
that our stay on the Loire will not probably con 
tinue much longer. With regard to N there 

is nothing to say, since I am not willing now to 
contract indissoluble ties. I think you can guess 
the reasons without my developing them. But if I 
should marry, I believe she would be a good se 
lection." 

The great affair now is the books wherein he 
can study religion : 

" By my letter of Saturday you have seen that 
in the matter of the books you did right, and al 
though, according to my usual fashion, I acted so 
as to confuse everything, since I engaged myself 
before getting your answer, all is perfectly arranged. 
I had sent to buy Godescard again, but I am very 
well satisfied that you have bought it. The price 
they asked me here was 23 frs. and 25 centimes 
($4.65) ; it was the only one that was cheaper in 
Paris ; thus it all happened right. Have the kind 
ness to order it put in a half-binding, which will 
be the strongest." 

So Godescard, bound or not, is in Mr. Clerc s 
hands, and only waits an opportunity to make the 
journey to Indret. And just at the proper time 
behold Commander Bourgois, who is about to take 
a trip to Paris, offers his services. " But it is 



Epistolary Controversy. 175 

rather heavy/ Alexis observes ; " it would perhaps 
be better not to trouble him with it." 

" Besides," he continues, " if you would like to 
read those wonderful histories of the saints, I beg 
you to keep them ; I have no urgent need of the 
book. Moreover, I would be delighted to hear the 
judgment you will pass upon men so extraordinary, 
and who are as much further above the greatest 
heroes than these are above the rest of mankind. 
Some of them in particular were the sensible organs 
of Providence in the age in which they lived, and 
their lives belong to history properly so called. 
Thus, Mr. Augustin Thierry has produced very 
pleasing historical works while confining himself 
to events connected with Sfc, Gregory of Tours. 
The lives of St. Gregory of Tours, of St. Germanus 
of Paris, of St. Pretextatus of Kouen, of St. Hilary 
of Poitiers, of St. Martin of Tours, and of the 
other bishops, St. Felix, Sfc. Olair, St. Pasquier * 
of Nantes, St. Cesarius of Aries, and of all the 
others whose names I do not remember, is the sub 
stance of the history of France in those times of 
the invasion and of the Merovingian rule; it is 
there that we can best study the spirit of that mon 
archy constructed by bishops, as hives are by the 
bees, according to Gibbon s expression. 

" Whoever is acquainted with St. Thomas and 
St. Anselm, etc., is acquainted with the whole 

* He was careful not to forget this bishoD, who, according 
to the author of the Life of St. Hermeland," was the 
founder of the monastery of Aindre, and placed at its head 
the holy abbot whose hermitage is shown in the island of In- 
dret. 



176 Alexis Clerc. 

learning of the Middle Ages. St. Louis, S*\ Ber 
nard, St. Dominic, St. Gregory VII., sum up their 
epochs. Finally, if for any reason whatsoever you 
wou-ld like to read them, I bog you to keep them 
(Godescard s ( Lives of the Saints * ) until I start 
on a long voyage." 

The names were repeated from memory, and 
somewhat confusedly, which did not agree with a 
great historical exactness. Mr. Clerc, who noticed 
this, was delighted to catch his son at fault, and we 
may guess what was the import of his criticism by 
the following reply of Alexis : 

" MY DEAK FATHEB : I must agree with you 
as to the carelessness with which I wrote the names 
of some of the saints I mentioned. In fact, I do 
not know if Godescard s work gives them the 
prominence I attribute to them ; and more, I do 
not know the entire life of each, and I had prin 
cipally in view that fecundity of the faith which 
filled our beloved country with saints at the peri 
od when its character, iis nationality, had birth. 
Those grand figures present themselves, perhaps, 
out of their right point of view in a work which 
offers them all, and which, perhaps, was not con 
ceived as it should have been to suit you best. I 
am acquainted with some of them from their mono 
graphs ; one perhaps gets a better appreciation of 
their grandeur in that way., Still, I believe, after 
what you tell me, that the chief reason of your 
judgment comes from the mistrust with which a 

* A French translation of Butler. 



Epistolary Controversy. 177 

miraculous occurrence always inspires you, so that 
by a sort of rebound you do not accept as quite 
certain even what is not miraculous. It is true 
that in those histories the natural and the super 
natural are found closely connected, mingled, con 
founded, until it is impossible to distinguish them. 
With regard to this, I refer to what I have already 
written you about miracles. I gave to those pages 
at the time all the conscientious study I am capable 
of ; I judge of them now from a memory which is 
already indistinct, and perhaps I deceive myself in 
thinking they answer your present doubts. I add 
what probably may be found in some preface or 
note of Godescard that all the miracles of the 
saints are not articles of faith, but those only upon 
which the Court of Eome has pronounced in the 
process of the canonization of the saint.* More 
over, the rules of criticism can here be rigorously 
applied. 

"Your parallel between the Abbot Suger and 
St. Bernard may be wholly to the advantage of the 
first, without my blaming your judgment in the 
least, Suger being certainly very enlightened, 
very wise, very prudent, and meriting very strong 
praise. But that great man held St. Bernard I 
will not say in the highest esteem ; he regarded 
him as a very great saint, as an oracle inspired by 
God. I recollect a letter of Suger to St. Bernard 
which breathes these sentiments. He also received 

* An error : even those are not of faith, and, in general, 
no miracle related by historians is of faith ; but there would 
be a great and culpable rashness in denying those which are 
recognized as such by the Holy See. 



178 Alexis Clerc. 

with humility and submission the remonstrances of 
the Abbot of Clairvaux upon his luxury, and there 
upon reformed his own house and his abbey. If 
Suger himself is not a saint, I think he is what is 
called in the odor of sanctity. He did not want 
the Crusades. That was natural enough in a mi 
nister who believed he did well in exaggerating 
prudence. St. Bernard preached them. . It is 
doing better still to scorn all human prudence, and 
to trust only in God, and it is a duty to act thus 
when we are sure that he commands. But that 
immense fact of the Crusades is too fruitful a sub 
ject of discussion, and assuredly I shall not add 
new subjects to those we already have. St. Ber 
nard, Peter the Hermit, and the Popes, were not 
influenced by the spirit of their contemporaries. 
They directed it ; still more, they incited it ; 
and not to regard them as the promoters of those 
heroic enterprises is to depreciate their part in his 
tory. A minister of peace can, nevertheless, exer 
cise terrible justice. Who has said of St. Peter 
that he was the minister of vengeance and not of 
of peace because he struck dead Ananias and 
Saphira?" 

As he pursues his theme ideas crowd upon him, 
and, almost without knowing it, Alexis fills with 
his finest writing a dozen more pages, wherein, 
after having expressed himself about the Crusades, 
he makes an apology for the macerations of the 
saints ; and he sums up his opinions in this final 
conclusion : " What I want to tell you once again 
is that the admirable charity of a St. Vincent de 



Epistolary Controversy. 179 

Paul js not a sanctity different from the austerities 
of a St. Simeon Stylites, the preaching of a St. 
Bernard, or the missions of a St. Francis Xavier ; 
all these different forms of merit are fruits of the 
same grace, which is their common sap, and their 
roots are planted in the same soil of benediction, 
which is the love of God." 

Coming from an officer of the navy who has 
so much other business on his hands, these contro 
versial efforts have certainly their value. They 
manifest a soul nourished with the marrow of 
Christianity, and one that daily meditates upon 
eternal truths. Moreover, though he never makes 
a parade of knowledge, still less of erudition, he 
lets us, when the occasion requires, guess at a 
learning as varied as comprehensive, gathered with 
discernment from the best sources. With what 
competence he speaks of St. Bernard ! This will 
surprise us less when we learn that he has read not 
only the life of the great Abbot of Clairvaux, but 
also his works (part of them at least) in the origi 
nal ; we might have cited some of his letters in 
which, commissioning his father to get him a copy 
of St. Bernard, he descants upon the respective 
merits of the different editions like a bibliographer 
who understands his business. 

Perhaps the reader has not forgotten how he 
admired in La Bruyere that chapter on "Les 
Esprits Forts," where the great thinker of the 
seventeenth century renders so beautiful a homage 
to the learning and genius of a Leo, a Basil, a 
Jerome, an Augustine, and where suddenly he 



i8o Alexis Clerc. 

cries out : " A Father of the Church, a Doctor of 
the Church what titles ! what gloom in their 
writings, what dryness, what cold devotion, and, 
possibly, what learning! exclaim those who have 
never read them. What astonishment for all who 
have formed such erroneous ideas of the Fathers 
when they discover in their works more variety and 
delicacy, more polish, more richness of expression, 
and stronger reasoning, brighter flashes of genius, 
and more natural graces of style, than can be 
found in the greater part of the favorite modern 
books which bring fame and vanity to their au 
thors 1 What a pleasure to love religion and to 
see it believed, defended, explained by such rare 
geniuses, such solid minds, especially when we be 
come aware that for extent of knowledge, for 
depth and penetration, for principles of sound phi 
losophy and for their application and develop 
ment, for accuracy of conclusions, for dignity of 
language, for beauty of morality and sentiments, 
there is nothing, for example, that can be com 
pared to St. Augustine, save the writings of Plato 
and Cicero ! " 

To know religion, to love it, to make it loved, 
and in order to constantly increase in the know 
ledge and love of it, to employ his leisure in see 
ing it believed, defended, explained by such rare 
geniuses, was the passion that guiied Clerc in the 
choice of his readings, and was the reason why he 
did not dread that austerity, that scholastic dry- 
ness with which certain works of the holy Fathers 
are impressed, and which always repel frivolous 



Epistolary Controversy. 181 

minds from them. He was abundantly rewarded, 
not that he could acquire by himself exact and 
complete theological knowledge on all points ; he 
did not cherish that illusion, and when he dis 
coursed upon matters of faith he was very care 
ful to accompany his ideas with a reserve, and to 
invoke as a last resort the intervention of a more 
competent judge. When he believed the thing 
possible, he referred to the holy Fathers themselves ; 
it was in this way that he made his father read 
St. Augustine s " Confessions," and he wrote to 
his brother Jules : " The attentive reading of the 
Confessions of St. Augustine will be for a sound 
and strong mind a sort of tableau of the struggles, 
the progress, and the victory of eternal truth over 
the illusions of false wisdom in a great heart and 
a great mind." He speaks from experience, eter 
nal truth having thus triumphed in his heart and 
mind for ever. It is a fact that, after having care 
fully read all his letters and his most private notes, 
those he wrote for himself alone, I have not been 
able to find, from the date of his conversion, any 
indication of a faith shaken, wavering, or even 
only disquieted by returns of doubt, or of involun 
tary assaults of incredulity. Far from that, he 
goes on, to use the language of the Psalmist, from 
light to light; the supernatural and invisible, of 
which he possessed by faith the intimate consci 
ousness, are become the light and the food of his 
soul. Most certainly this is a great grace; it is 
the reward of the efforts he made to know the 
truth as thoroughly as it could be known by a 



1 82 Alexis Clerc. 

mind as richly endowed with natural gifts as his 
was. 

G-od knows that we have no intention of ad 
vising men of his profession to devote themselves 
as he did to the study of theology and to the read 
ing of the Fathers of the Church. In the first 
place, they would do nothing of the kind ; and, in 
the second place, of those who might attempt it, 
the greater number would have neither the con 
stancy, nor especially the leisure necessary, to per 
severe in such a course. But no one should think 
to exempt himself from a care about the great 
questions of the future that is, of eternity. Re 
flect, then : irce are embarked on this ocean of time, 
and the ship sails, always sails, without its being 
possible for us to suspend or retard its progress for 
a moment. Where will we be at the end of the 
voyage on what shore shall we land ? Before us, 
yonder whither we are hastening, is there really 
only the unknown ? Yes, answers the infidel, and 
he falls asleep upon that response which contains so 
little to inspire hope or courage. But the believer 
says that that shore there beyond, though hidden 
from our gaze, is known to us.. by faith, and he 
affirms that God sent his own Son on earth to re 
veal the mysteries of the future life, and to guide 
us surely towards the port of salvation. It is well 
worth the trouble to reflect and examine whether 
those who have this faith and hope are not in the 
right. Certainly there is danger of deceiving our 
selves ; at some given moment the error, which is 
of consequence, may be for ever irreparable. 



Epistolary Controversy. 183 

Clerc chose the good part, and he never repented 
of it. Let his example be a sort of counsel to 
those who have not yet the happiness of believing, 
and to whom, if they desire to insure themselves 
against the dread possibility of an eternal ship 
wreck, the means of enlightenment will not be 
wanting any more than they were to him. 



CHAPTER VI. 

PRELUDES OF VOCATION PREPARATIONS FOR ANOTHER 
VOYAGE. 

JAKUAKT 1, 1850, Clerc was promoted to the 
rank of lieutenant. He had just entered his 
thirty-first year. Henceforth, thanks to his ten 
years experience of the sea, and thanks also to the 
mathematical knowledge he had found a use for 
in the workshops of Indret and on board the 
Pelican, the career which lay before him was pleas 
ant, easy, and sure, and he lacked nothing, hu 
manly speaking, to make him satisfied with his 
lot. 

But his heart had aspirations for something 
more, which he thought he ought to listen to. Did 
God require him to leave the navy to attach him 
self more closely to his service ? This did not yet 
appear quite plain, but he was too frank to dis 
semble the thoughts that disturbed him, too faith 
ful to grace not to be ready for everything. 

Being in Paris in the spring of 1850, he spent 
the week after G-ood Shepherd Sunday (second 
week after Easter) in retreat, under the direction 
of Father de Eavignan. After a mature examina 
tion he asked to be received into the Society of 
Jesus, which he had long been acquainted with, 

184 



Preludes of Vocation. 185 

and towards which he felt drawn. But Father de 
Ravignan was not a man to be hasty in decisions of 
this kind. When there had been question of his 
own vocation, which cut short a brilliant career 
hardly commenced, being vigorously opposed by 
his family, he had temporized, while his resolution 
was not shaken for a moment. He thought Clerc 
might do the same ; and, in spite of the impatient 
ardor of his desires, Clerc had to wait.* 

We have some notes in his handwriting bearing 
the date of this retreat. First come some reflec 
tions upon the Immaculate Conception, a Catholic 
belief of which we still awaited the solemn defini 
tion that four years later was to rejoice the hearts 
of all Mary s faithful servants and children. Then 
there are some considerations of a dogmatic charac 
ter on the eternal fate of the damned, and on the 
infinite expiation of Jesus Christ, the common pa 
trimony of all mankind. 

Further on, exactly in the middle of a page de 
voted to several subjects, is this invocation which 
casts a light upon the rest : "St. Margaret of Cor- 
tona, pray for me ! " 

Doubtless Clerc during his retreat read the life 
of that saint, who till the age of twenty-five was a 

* Before leaving the residence of the Rue de Sevres, where 
he had made his retreat, he was presented to the community, 
and took leave of them in. terms which corresponded well with 
the desire he had to remain if he had been allowed. The father 
minister wi ote in his journal cr Diarium : " April 24 Our 
young officer, Mr. Clerc, finishes his retreat and takes leave of 
us after having greatly edified us. He warmly expressed his 
gratitude for the edification he had himself received and the 
good he believed he had gained from bis retreat." This is the 
only example the Diarium gives us of so special a mention, and 
is a contrast with its usual laconism. 



1 86 Alexis Clerc. 

great sinner ; and, in the sincerity of his repen 
tance, recognizing that he had commenced like 
her, he wishes to finish also like her, and claims 
her for his patroness. 

The concluding lines revolve upon these words 
love and suffering. He has understood that with 
out sorrow he cannot live in the love of God sine 
dolore non vivitur in amore and that noble love 
has with him all the qualities which the pious au 
thor of the " Imitation " speaks of itf such elo 
quent terms : "Love feels no burdens, values no 
labors, complains not of impossibility, because it 
conceives that it may and can do all things 
("Imit," 1. iii., c. v., v. 4, De Mirdbili effectu 
Divini Amor is, Ohal loner s Trans.) 

On returning to Brest, where his duties again 
keep him, he resumes with more fervor than over 
his life of austerity and good works. He acts 
towards the world as a man who expects nothing 
from it, and who has burned his ships like Cortes. 
The Feast of the Blessed Sacrament is come. Clerc 
deems that his place is in the procession following 
the footsteps of his God, and he escorts the can 
opy, candle in hand and wearing his uniform. 
This does not please everybody, and the rumor of 
it reaches as far as Paris. We may imagine the 
stupefaction of Mr. Clerc, with his idea that re 
ligion should be confined to the precincts of the 
temple and rigorously forbidden all exterior mani 
festation. Others besides him, among them some 
fervent Christians, held the same opinion, and it 
took a good many hard lessons before they would 



Preludes of Vocation. 187 

at last allow to Catholic worship a little place in 
the open air. Those who are desirous that it 
should have a large place are very bold. 

Naturally Alexis is charged with exaggeration. 
He defends himself but feebly, believing that he 
has his faults, that he is not yet entirely rid of the 
old man, and that he may spoil by mixing himself 
with it the good for which he is so earnest. But 
he will not admit that he is wrong on the strength 
of reproaches aimed at once against the most au 
thorized practices of the Church, and the examples 
of the saints which he never loses sight of. To 
be somewhat of a fool in the eyes of the world 
does not displease him, for he knows that man 
saves his soul and gains the heart of God by gene 
rously embracing the/0% of the cross. 

We shall discover these sentiments in a letter ad 
dressed to his father from Brest : 

" As to me, dear father, I can only approve what 
you say. I have the fault of always wanting to go 
ahead of others in whatever I undertake, and I 
agree with you that I ought to try to correct it. 
Whether the thing itself be good or bad, it is al 
ways bad to want to be first. But you know well 
that place has nothing to do with it. Whether I 
were in Paris, Brest, or China, I would always 
have this detestable spirit of vanity. I must fight 
it wherever I am, on shore or at sea. I can do so 
better on shore, for I have all the spiritual 
helps that I would lack at sea. Unfortunately, it 
is not a small matter to conquer one s self, especi 
ally in what concerns pride. 



1 88 Alexis Clerc. 

" It is very possible that this detestable senti 
ment may have inspired a large part of my actions, 
which, consequently, were good only in appear 
ance ; but if it is necessary to purify the intention, 
it is likewise necessary to persevere in what will be 
very good when the intention is purified. 

" I must also tell you that, if I have no servile 
and necessary occupations, I have, nevertheless, 
enough to do, and I am not idle. People are ready 
to believe that devotees create for themselves a 
sort of. far niente, of lazy idleness, where, like the 
rat, they hide away from all troublesome business, 
and then, in that agreeable detachment from all 
the things of the world, some the monks, who 
eat well, sleep well, and hire singers to do -their 
chanting for them-^-grow fat visibly. Others, 
having their minds always fixed upon one same 
idea, or, rather, upon the search for a being who 
does not exist, are sunk like the fakirs in the sha 
dows of an abstraction which destroys all reality. 
They do me the honor to class me among the se 
cond sort the poor fools who take the thing seri 
ously. But all this is not the truth. There are 
some ignoble beings who throw holy things to the 
dogs ; tli ere are some religious maniacs ; there are 
some vague and stubborn minds that lose them 
selves in abstractions. If they have a certain 
amount of natural energy^ and enough pride, they 
are the material of which heresiarchs are made. 
And, finally, there are some visionaries who dream 
about nothing, and believe they almost see the sub 
stance of the Trinity. With God s grace and by 



Preludes of Vocation. 189 

submission to my guides, I hope to escape these 
dangers for the future, even as I think I have 
escaped them up to the present. 

" Certainly, meditation is recommended, but 
nothing is less vague; we must always draw some 
practical conclusion from it, and we must be much 
more careful to seek for an affection, a movement 
of the heart towards G-od, than for the sublimes t 
mental conceptions. What can be wiser, more pru 
dent, further removed from the culpable state of 
the visionary, the heresiarch, or the maniac ? Our 
religion is positive ; it is not an abstraction. Our 
God is not vague and undetermined ^ he is inac 
cessible and infinite in his essence. It is not well 
to try to scrutinize the mystery with which he hides 
himself from our eyes, but in Jesus Christ he is ac 
cessible and within our reach, especially within 
reach of our hearts ; and all our religion consists in 
imitating Jesus Christ and in loving him. 

" As to the excessively exaggerated asceticism, I 
am puzzled to know what I can have done to in 
spire this opinion. It can only have been derived 
from some conversations. We must not attach too 
much importance to these. As you know, while not 
talking absolutely without reflection, I do not al 
ways weigh my words sufficiently to be sure that 
with a little more reflection I will not disavow 
them. I do not just now remember what I have 
said to provoke this judgment of me. 

" Let tho world blame my conduct ; it is very 
natural that it should, and I am not in the least in 
arrears to it; for, if it blames me for seeking 



i go Alexis Clerc. 

neither my interest nor my pleasure, I blame it 
precisely because it does seek both the one and the 
other. In this matter there is no way of compro 
mising ; one says white and the other black; there 
is only to choose, an# my choice is made; but 
surely this is not what you blame, you who are so 
little of the world. Let the exaggeration pass, 
then ; I do not say Yes or No to it, for I am in 
ignorance of what you mean by it, and I would 
like to know where to lay hold of this new enemy. 
It is very vague to say that one is exaggerated, but 
if you will plainly designate what appears so to 
you, I promise to pay serious attention to it. I 
think that my conduct during my journey, and 
my journey itself, proves that I am mistrustful of 
my own ideas, even when they are directed towards 
the purest good. Excess is not a good ; on the 
contrary, it is an evil. I wish to avoid it like any 
other evil. Excess in this matter springs from a 
presumption which embraces more than its arm 
ful, as Montaigne says. It can hold nothing with 
a firm grasp, and it speedily casts the soul into a 
disgust and discouragement that render it incapa 
ble of the easiest things. But if we must have no 
presumption we must also have no cowardice, and 
we must, if we would avoid the greatest dangers, 
undertake, with our confidence firmly fixed in God, 
all that is possible to us. Exaggeration has in it 
something personal, human, which it is easy, at 
least for others, to perceive. Pure zeal has some 
thing holy which reveals its divine origin. But let 
us stop here." 



Preludes of Vocation. 191 

Meanwhile a new perspective begins to appear 
in the distance. Clerc, on board the Dugueselin 
which is being unrigged, writes to his father during 
the first days of August: "I am expecting a more 
important expedition, which will perhaps take me 
very far away and keep me a long time ; but as no 
orders have been given yet, I will defer speaking of 
it more explicitly until I have something positive 
to tell you." 

At the same time a singular thing ideas of 
vocation keep coming into his mind, and assume 
more and more consistency. This is what afflicts 
Mr. Clerc, who sees his Alexis, on the one hand 
repelling all plans of establishment, and on the 
other pursuing his career with the resolution, al 
ready perhaps irrevocable, of abandoning it at the 
very time it smiles upon him more brightly than 
ever a cruel thing for a father who has reposed his 
dearest hopes upon the head of a tenderly-loved 
son, and who sees the edifice of his happiness thus 
crumbling before him. 

But there has been nothing done as yet, and he 
hopes to ward off the blow. He begins, therefore, 
by attacking his son about his present resolutions, 
and about that kind of invisible wall he has put 
between himself and the world, evidently in the 
hope of one day reaching a positive separation. 

Alexis, pressed so closely, defends himself warm 
ly, and makes it clear that he will not yield an 
inch of ground. 

" It was with pain," he wrote to his father, 
"that I learned from your letter of the 3d that 



192 Alexis Clerc. 

what appeared to you an exaggeration of devotion 
was what seemed to me perhaps tepidity, and this 
on account of the different ways in which we look 
at things. 

" Really I cannot change my conduct in those 
points that are conformable with my faith. I 
would much have preferred that you had found 
something else to scold me for ; I could then have 
proved how anxious I am to please you. It was, 
perhaps, the foresight that it would be impossible 
for me to make a concession in that matter which 
led you to undertake to show me that, even look 
ing at things hypothetically from my point of view, 
you could see them differently. You refer to your 
observations on the subject of the attempt I made 
in Paris to leave the world. I have reread them 
with great attention, as well as those in the present 
letter. They may be reduced to two heads : the 
first that: celibacy is a state contrary to nature, and 
the second that I have a career already secured 
which I abandon. As I do not remember to have 
sent you any reply, you will pardon me for this 
one. If it has not the merit of persuasion it will 
perhaps have for you that of novelty. 

" Marriage is for the species what food is for the- 
individual it is its means of preservation. Hence 
it is for the species a natural law, and it is, as your 
note expresses it, the commandment which God 
gave in saying to our first parents, Increase and 
multiply. Thus, I grant, you have quite satisfac 
torily established that marriage is a natural duty 
for the species, and that consequently it is right 



Preludes of Vocation. 193 

But what regards the species does not impose an 
obligation on all the individuals. Just as in an 
army, where there must be drummers and color- 
bearers, it is not necessary that all should be 
drummers or color-bearers, so with regard to the 
maintenance and preservation of the species, etc." 

The reader sees the consequence drawn : it is not 
necessary that all should be fathers of family. 
But allow us to hereupon open a parenthesis. 

"We are aware of the intimate acquaintance 
Alexis kept up with St. Thomas, and his habit of 
having recourse to the great doctor for answers to 
the objections that came to him from all sides. 
Here we catch him in the act, and at the moment 
he writes these lines, original enough, and even 
impressed with a certain gaiety, he has his St. 
Thomas open before him, either the " Theological 
Summa " (2a. 2ae., q. 152, a. 2, ad primum) or the 
"Summa" against the (Gentiles (1. iii,, c. cxxxvi.); 
for it is there we find the distinction of the things 
necessary to the preservation of the individual and 
of the things necessary to the preservation of the 
species, a distinction which gives rise to a reason 
ing identical with that of Alexis on the subject of 
marriage, although St. Thomas does not speak of 
color- bearers and drummers. 

This argumentation is, moreover, irrefutable ; 
and it is carious that, several years later, Mr. Jules 
Simon likewise employed ifc in a work that takes 
only into consideration natural morality. He does 
not quote St. Thomas, but evidently he has read 
him, and he writes in these very words : " Not- 



1 94 Alexis Clerc. 

withstanding all that may be said about the incli 
nation of nature, nature not needing that all indi 
viduals should reproduce themselves, can permit 
continence to be not only possible but easy." 
Whence he concludes that it is neither just nor 
philosophical to condemn the state of celibacy 
(" Le Devoir," first edition, p. 122). 

Mr. Clerc, who called himself a philosopher, had 
then to deal with a strong opponent ; his son un 
dertook to pursue him into his own territory and 
to overcome him with his own arms. 

" There you have the philosophical reason," 
adds Alexis, " but the practice and judgment of 
the Church are much more conclusive, and you 
cannot doubt that she highly esteems celibacy. It 
is not of precept, it is true, otherwise marriage 
would be forbidden, and, on the contrary, she de 
clares that marriage is a holy state ; but it is of 
counsel, and better than marriage. Assuredly you 
know that such always has been and always will 
be the sentiment of the Church regarding this 
matter. However, your knowledge of the fact will 
be confirmed by reading the seventh chapter of the 
First Epistle to the Corinthians. 

It is not for the sake of having a controversy 
that I tell you these things, but I do not want you 
to be mistaken about my sentiments. We are 
both agreed that I must wait. That decision 
seemed wise to you and it must be followed. 

" How I would like to tell you of the magnifi 
cent hopes it allows me a glimpse of. But 1 would 
wound your feelings, and, far from filling your 



Preludes of Vocation. 195 

heart with joy, would cause you only trouble and 
sorrow. Nevertheless you ought, after the pru 
dence I flatter myself I have shown, to believe that 
I will continue to be guided by it. It is probable 
that I shall follow the natural course of events, 
that I shall leave to God to put me, so to speak, 
with his own hand where he wants me to be, if 
that is not where I am. I have no purpose of 
taking upon myself to quit my place by an act of 
my own will. 

" This leads me to reply to your second observa 
tion : that I abandon my career. If I abandon it, it 
is because I am not attached to it. Once this 
abandonment/ s voluntary and spontaneous it can 
be no misfortune. I remain a sailor with the dis 
position of not being one to-morrow if God so 
pleases. I assure you that giving up the profession 
for that reason appears no sacrifice to me." 

But Mr. Clerc does not deem himself conquered, 
and he returns to the charge as vigorously as ever, 
it would seem, which perseverance procures him an 
entire letter on the celibacy of the priesthood. 
However, he refrains for the moment from directly 
attacking his son s resolution, for the latter adds, 
after having valiantly defended his thesis : "We 
have kept outside of the personal question, and we 
are quite agreed as to what I have to do now 
namely, remain a bachelor. You yourself consider 
this very wise. By my return from this voyage 
water enough will have flowed under the bridge, 
and I do not look so far into the future, Sufficient 
for the day is the evil thereof. " 



196 Alexis Clerc. 

It is, therefore, only a truce, but one to which 
the long voyage now talked of promises consider 
able duration. Each of the combatants counts 
upon resuming hostilities at some opportune time, 
and gaining more success than in the past. 

But what about this voyage, vaguely announced, 
and which rather pleases our Alexis, although, he 
considers his naval career as nearly finished, and 
although even the most legitimate ambition seems 
no longer to have any hold upon him ? Evidently 
this project must not only be agreeable to his 
tastes, but of a nature to satisfy the secret aspira 
tions of his heart and to put no obstacle in the 
way of his vocation. And truly Gqd had arranged 
everything according to his wishes in a manner 
to give him entire security on that essential point, 
without his having had to think of and imagine 
combinations of circumstances which probably 
would never have presented the same advantages. 

A still recent friendship, but one on which he 
could perfectly rely a friendship founded on con 
formity of views, sentiments, and religious princi 
ples, consecrated twenty years later by the same 
vows pronounced at the foot of the same altars 
this was what providentially intervened and fur 
nished him the means of pursuing his generous de 
sign with an always uniform ardor along a road 
apparently quite oil the route, and which even 
seemed to be made on purpose to take him far away 
from his goal. 

It was in Brest in 1848 that Clerc met Comman 
der Kobinet de Plas, captain of a frigate, his elder 



Preludes of Vocation. 197 

in years and in the service and his superior in rank, 
but his equal by charity which drew them to 
gether. They both belonged to a club (such 
was the language of the day) organized for the 
officers of the different naval corps in order to 
withdraw them from cafe, life. Clerc, then an 
ensign, was a member of the bureau and rendered 
as secretary important services, as is attested by 
his friend, who recommends us to be silent about 
the part he himself took in that good work. The 
commander having been called to Paris, in the 
course of the same year, to sit in the Court of Ad 
miralty, Alexis hastened to put him in communi 
cation with his father and his brother Jules. He 
wrote to his father with his expansive cordiality : 
" You ought to have seen Mr. de Plas, captain of 
frigate. You would have been pleased with him, 
for he is the finest specimen we could send to 
Paris. It would not be prudent to buy the whole 
lot from this sample. I am very lonely here since 
he is gone, and to console myself for having lost 
him I have to keep thinking every moment of the 
good he can do in his new and important posi 
tion." 

The position of the commander became still 
more important, and his influence still more ex 
tended, when the brave Admiral Eomain Desfosses 
appointed him chief of the council of the Minis 
ter of the Navy. It was the era of generous 
projects, and of a policy more Christian than the 
one we had lately seen at work, and whose weak 
ness we had experienced under the monarchy of 



198 Alexis Clerc. 

1830. Let that triumphant return of Pius IX. to 
Rome be remembered ; it was a triumph prepared 
by the sword of France, and applauded in both 
hemispheres not only by Catholics but by all true 
friends of justice and right. How strong we felt 
then ! A short time had sufficed, on almost the 
day after a mad revolution, to give us back our as 
cendency and restore us to our rank among the 
European powers. Neither our treasure nor our 
armament was increased by the fall of Louis 
Philippe ; but we marched the first in the path of 
honor, and never was our flag more respected than 
on the day when it bowed beneath the benediction 
of the Pontiff-King. 

It is not astonishing to see at such a period issu 
ing from the council of the Minister of the Navy 
the plan of an expedition having for its object the 
visit of the Catholic Missions, to which our brave 
sailors, according to a truly national tradition, 
owe a protection which had too often failed under 
the last reign. Mr. de Plas, selected for this most 
honorable service, wished to have Alexis with 
him. We can guess how the latter welcomed the 
overture made him to that effect. While waiting to 
enroll himself in the holy militia, nothing could 
please him better than to be, under no matter what 
title, the auxiliary of the priest, and especially of 
the missionary. The news being communicated 
to Mr. Olerc by Father de Ravignan, Alexis was 
free to enter into explanations with his father, and 
here is what he wrote him in a letter dated Sep 
tember 5, 1850 : 



Preludes of Vocation. 199 

" I come now to the project of the voyage. De 
Plas, in fact, proposed this expedition to me, and, 
as you may well believe, I accepted with all my 
heart. Indeed, nothing could please me better. If 
I am to remain a sailor, there is nothing I could 
like more than serving the Church as directly as 
possible. 

" Since you have learned the same thing through 
Father de Kavignan, it must be that it is consi 
dered as fully decided upon. As for me, I have 
had no news about it for a long time. De Plas 
left for Rome on the 8th of August, and I have 
received nothing from him since. He undertook 
this journey to obtain instructions and orders from 
the Holy Father ; but the matter is not yet talked 
about, and nobody knows of it excepting those to 
whom I have made overtures to secure their con 
currence. The vessel even has not yet been chos 
en. However, I have a strong faith that the ex 
pedition will become a fact. If I do not deserve 
the honor of forming a part of it, notwithstanding 
the great satisfaction it would afford me, I think I 
am disposed to be resigned. As you tell me, it is 
best not to trust to the most flattering hopes, and 
this is easy to one who is thoroughly convinced that 
Providence orders all events for the greater good 
of his children. 

" How happy I should be, dear father, if you 
could unite with me in appreciating this beautiful 
project I The history of our beloved country 
shows it as being always in the past centuries the 
shield and sword of the Church. Clovis defeated Ari- 



2OO Alexis Clerc. 

anism ; Charles Martel, Mohammedanism ; Mont- 
fort, Manicheism; the League, Protestantism. Since 
the Crusades, in which the most illustrious were 
the French, the name of Frank is used every 
where among barbarians to signify Christian ; 
and France, accepting this naturalization, has al 
ways taken upon herself the defence of all op 
pressed Christians. 

"Thus, our forces constantly protecting virtue, 
devotedness, and weakness, the name of France 
was blessed throughout the earth. It was pro 
claimed the generous and chivalric nation. Oh ! 
that those days might return, that we might un 
derstand what is our mission, and how our destiny 
is the grandest God has ever given to a nation I 
In giving us to be the defenders of the Church, of 
the Popes, of the apostles who bear his Gospel to 
the confines of the earth, he has made of France the 
right arm, the temporal strength of his spiritual 
kingdom. There is not, there cannot be, a more 
exalted destiny for a state. Our authority should 
be universal, like that of the Pope ; it belongs to 
us to protect Christians and missionaries every 
where." 

When he received the assurance that the expedi 
tion would certainly be made, and that he would 
belong to it, he fairly jumped for joy, and, borrow 
ing of the Blessed Virgin her song of thanksgiving, 
he cried out : "Magnificat anima mea Dominum" 
It is true that in this, as in everything else, he did 
not see his ideal fully realized ; the plan of visit 
ing the Catholic Missions was subjected to extenua- 



Preludes of Vocation. 201 

tions and alterations, which deprived it in his eyes 
of a little of its grandeur and of its religious as 
pect. But enough of its first meaning remained for 
him to find in it a noble employment of his abilities, 
and for him to congratulate himself upon being, 
while waiting for something better, associated with 
an enterprise from which much might be expected 
for the prosperity of several important Christian 
colonies on the coast of Africa and on the different 
shores of the extreme East. 

"I think," he wrote in a letter of October 19, 
" the end of my waiting is near, and any day I 
may receive orders to join the ship. It seems they 
have selected a steam-vessel, the Cassini, which is 
at Lorient, and it is there we will go to make pre 
parations. The cruise may not be what we would 
have wished ; it may perhaps be confined to India 
and China, instead of taking in the whole world. It 
is probable, also, that the commander will not be 
allowed to choose his men, nor all of his offi 
cers. Finally, I fear for my part, without know 
ing anything positive, that too diplomatic an air 
will be given to the expedition ; I would prefer to do 
things more squarely, and to say quite stupidly that 
we are going lo help and protect the Jesuits. It is 
true that for France diplomacy and the protection 
of the Catholic religion are, to people who have seen 
a little of the world, one and the same thing. I 
would have liked, however, that they should not 
have been afraid to proclaim our intention. Cir 
cumspection, prudence, is not my strong point, 
perhaps ; I confess that I do not like these con- 



2O2 Alexis Clerc. 

cessions to a misled public opinion. Still, I reas 
sure myself by thinking of the chief who is to com 
mand us, and with whom, I am certain, this 
worldly prudence will never degenerate into weak 
ness. 

"They say the vessel is admirably adapted to the 
purpose in many ways ; it is almost new ; the 
boilers are on shore being repaired, and after this 
the Cassini will be ready for a long voyage. But 
this will take some time, and I venture to say that 
it will be about three months before we can sail. 

" I am not quite sure what will be my business 
during this time, whether I shall be occupied with 
the equipment of the ship, or shall devote myself 
to acquiring the knowledge that will enable me to 
bring back from so fine a voyage documents inter 
esting to science. I am ready for whatever de 
Plas wishes ; in any case, I joyfully await the 
moment of making myself useful. I am not too 
much afraid of inaction, and ennui scarcely ever 
torments me ; but my uselessness weighs upon me, 
and I am rather ashamed of living with so little 
trouble." 

God knows whether he was idle or not ; and as 
to living with little trouble, if he was exempt from 
this through the moderation of his wants, he knew 
how to give himself for others as much and more 
trouble than people who are stimulated by their 
own interests usually take. But this was nothing 
compared to what he wished to do, he being one of 
those who, after having conscientiously performed 
their task, render themselves justice by saying : 



Preludes of Vocation. 203 

"We are unprofitable servants; we have clone 
that which we ought to do " (Luke xvii. 10). 

And now conies a first attempt of Clerc, en 
dorsed by the commander of the Cassini, to give 
the projected expedition as Catholic a character as 
possible. Alexis was acquainted with the Rev. 
Father Rubillon, provincial of the Society of 
Jesus in Paris, the same who has since been assis 
tant for France in Rome. "With full confidence in 
the zeal and charity of that worthy superior, he 
writes to him under date of October 19 : 

"REVEKEND FATHER: I thank you from the 
depth of rny heart for your most affectionate letter. 
I now undertake this long cruise with a feeling of 
perfect security, and in the hope that God will 
make it serve to his glory and our spiritual profit. 
Commander de Plas offered in Rome to take on the 
Cassini a delegate from the Holy Father to ex 
amine and judge of the condition and wants of the 
universal kingdom. The Ministry has itself made 
the same proposal to the nuncio in Paris. It is 
probable that a plan which seems so advantageous 
to the Church will be accepted ; still, it is not cer 
tain. However that may be, this delegate, who, 
perhaps, will not be a Frenchman, may have visits 
to make which will keep him absent from the ves 
sel for long periods, the vessel being for him only 
a means of conveyance, and you understand, Rev 
erend Father, that we want a priest for ourselves ; 
therefore we have recourse to you. 

"The law relative to chaplains does not apply 
to vessels like ours ; we will be rejoiced at this 



2O4 Alexis Clerc. 

misfortune if we can derive from it the ad- 
yantage of haying a Jesuit. As the Government 
will have nothing to do with this choice, it will 
quite willingly keep itself ignorant of what does 
not concern it. 

" The Father shall mess with and be provided 
by the commander ; we claim all the other ex 
penses, and we will endeavor to return him in as 
good condition as when he was delivered to us. In 
our difficulty of doing more and of securing to our 
chaplain the same emoluments as though he were 
legally and administratively embarked, it is only a 
priest who has made a vow of poverty, and whom 
his order will take back after the expedition is over, 
who can suit us. This consideration will perhaps 
influence the Bishop of Vannes, from whom the 
chaplains that sail from this port receive their 
faculties, to waive his right of appointing a priest 
of his diocese, and grant readily to a Jesuit Father 
what could not be accepted by a secular priest. 

" But if the exterior difficulties seem easy to 
overcome, there must, however, be weighty reasons 
to induce your Society to relinquish a Father for 
three years to so small a number of the faithful as 
compose the equipage of the Cassini 130 men. 

"Well, in the first place, the vessel will fulfil 
her important mission so much better in proportion 
as the men will be more religious, and it is certain 
that their progress in piety will not be useful to 
themselves alone. But the principal reason we 
have to offer you is that the vessel will in reality, 
as was said at first, make the tour of the world, 



Preludes of Vocation. 205 

and that, consequently, the Father you will give 
us as our chaplain can at the same time be your 
visitor-general, doing for all your houses near the 
coasts what, I understand, is done in your different 
European provinces. Thus the Society will itself 
derive some profit from what will be to us such a 
very great advantage. 

"Reverend Father, I address you this request in 
the name of Commander de Plas ; he will be in 
Paris on the 28th of October, and will see you him 
self relative to it ; but as some delay may be re 
quired to decide the matter, he has desired me to 
write to you in order not to lose time. We expect 
the vessel to be ready to sail by the end of Decem 
ber. 

"I beg you, dear and venerated Father, look 
favorably upon this project, in which we are equal 
ly jealous of our own good and of that of the 
Society. It is clear that the selection of a Father 
for this double function of chaplain and visitor 
belongs exclusively to your Very Reverend Father- 
General, but de Plas has told me to mention, with 
out in any way insisting upon it, the name of 
Father de Sainte Angele, who is, he thinks, at 
Dole. 

" I pray G-od to make you favorable to our 
plan. 

"Your most respectful and dutiful son in our 
Lord Jesus Christ, A. CLERC." 

What a spirit of faith and what a heart of an 
apostle ! What respect for all proprieties, especial 
ly for the proprieties of the religious life I We 



206 Alexis Clerc. 

-1 

feel that Clerc s filial submission to his venerable 
correspondent is not a mere empty phrase, and 
that without being bound by vows he finds in it a 
foretaste of religious obedience. All, however, was 
not to be to the liking of Commander de Plas so ably 
seconded by his lieutenant. The Cassini did not 
make the tour of the world, and no Jesuit em 
barked in her. But this double disappointment 
was compensated by the presence of two venerable 
bishops, accompanied by several priests, and by the 
services which the expedition, having once reached 
China, rendered to one of the most interesting of 
the Jesuit missions in that extreme East. 

The preparations were long and laborious. The 
officers were recruited quietly, without any open 
preference, and the choice was as fortunate as could 
reasonably be expected, taking into account the 
administrative obstacles. 

" The Cassini is not yet ready to start," Alexis 
wrote to his brother Jules early in November (1850); 
" her boilers are still on shore, and it will be a month 
before they can be put in place ; our departure 
does not seem to me possible before the beginning 
of January. The Cassini is a vessel very similar 
to the Caiman; she has already been tried by a 
voyage which did not injure her in the least and 
tested the quality of all her belongings. The en 
gine is a good one, and has been thoroughly in 
spected and made equal to new. 

" We will set out with a good many passengers 
of all descriptions, even nuns and bishops the 
new Bishop of Bourbon, where until now there has 



Preludes of Vocation. 207 

been no bishopric, and Mgr. Verolles, bishop of 
Mantchooria, who has already suffered for the 
faith. 

" The cruise attracts many naval officers, and it 
would seem that the shadow of cassocks, as Mr. 
Hugo expresses it, does not sufficiently obscure the 
future of the Cassini to make it dreaded. Not 
withstanding our little odor of Jesuitism, peo 
ple seem quite well disposed to become our asso 
ciates ; it is, however, a perfume that diffuses 
itself without any effort on our part, for we live 
very quietly, I and my colleague, Bernaert, and, it 
even might be said, in a diplomatic reserve, if our 
tranquillity were not the effect of our personal 
tastes." 

This Bernaert, the second lieutenant of the Cas 
sini, was an experienced seaman and a valiant 
Christian. At fifty years of age he had petitioned 
to sail as supplementary officer that is, holding 
the lowest rank but a decision of the Maritime 
Prefect, which he had noways provoked, restored 
him his right of seniority. Not less generous than 
modest, although he was without fortune, he gave 
largely of the little he had ; for instance, on his ar 
rival in China he gave 600 francs to the Procurator 
@f the Foreign Missions for the work of the propa 
gation of the faith, saying that he had not come 
to that country to economize. He was, we are 
told, an officer who only lacked the occasion to 
rise to the heroic and who lived like a saint. Once 
returned to private life, he withdrew to a town of 
the Department du Nord (Steenvoorde), where he 



208 Alexis Clerc. 

died a few years ago, leaving behind him the re 
putation of a most upright man, and an example 
which his fellow members of the conferences of 
St. Vincent de Paul have not forgotten. Such a 
man readily sympathized with Alexis. Before 
their departure they went together every morning 
to the early parochial Mass, and together they ap 
proached the holy table, a worthy preparation for 
the kind of maritime crusade to which they had so 
gladly consecrated themselves. Clerc went on 
board the vessel every day to inspect the progress 
of the work and to superintend the arrangements, 
putting to profit the experience he possessed long 
since, thanks to his voyage on a ship of the same 
kind, the Caiman. 

A striking and instructive contrast ! When in 
1847 he was cruising off the western coast of 
Africa on that steam corvette, which did a good 
deal of transporting in the interest of our establish 
ments of Senegal, he felt little liking for that 
kind of service, whose monotony but poorly re 
sponded to his warlike and chivalric aspirations, 
and, including in one same anathema steam and 
transportation, he wrote to his father with a fa- 
cetioutmess that was just a little caustic: " In short, 
since I have been on board we have taken in Goal, 
then loaded with baggage, burned our coal, re 
loaded, reburned coal, etc. always the same thing 
over and over again. That s the life of an officer for 
you ! Now we are, I believe, relieved from loading 
for some time, for there is nothing more to be 
loaded. If you had since my departure gained the 



Preludes of Vocation. 209 

ear of some influential personage, I would tell you 
how vicious it is to employ the navy in this way ; 
that steam vessels require sailors to manage them, 
but that on board of them it is impossible to learn 
anything of the profession ; that the young officers 
ought not to be attached to steam vessels, and that 
using them as transports makes of their officers 
mere carters, teamsters, etc." He had the most 
exalted idea of the naval service, and his predilec 
tion at that time was for navigation by sails, wit 
ness certain memoranda on the chasse desvaisseaux 
which were found among his papers. This, we 
are assured, is a beautiful and ingenious mathe 
matical theoryj but of which the application is im 
possible in steam navigation. However that may 
be, charged on the Cassini with the details of the 
engine, he utilized in that employment knowledge 
of a quite different nature which he had acquired 
on the Caiman against his will, so to speak ; and 
contrary to his expectations, to burn and return 
coal for the honor of France and in the interests of 
Catholic missions became the great joy and, as ifc 
were, the crown of his naval career. 

Thus in the last days of 1850 we find him 
wholly occupied in collecting precise and detailed 
technical information upon the different qualities 
of combustibks that could be used on the Cassini. 
The School of Mines affording the most abundant 
resources for that study, Alexis wished to profit by 
them, and came to Paris for the purpose. This 
journey procured him the acquaintance of a man 
whose friendship, though enjoyed so late, was in- 



2io Alexis Clerc. 

finitely precious to him and marked an epoch in 
his life. Who has not heard of Commander Mar 
ceau, that noble Christian with whom our young 
lieutenant had so many points of resemblance ? 
Both entered the navy through the Polytechnic 
School ; both escaped a great danger, strangers as 
they were to all religious practices ; both, also, 
from the time of their conversion aspired unceas 
ingly to what was most perfect, and had no other 
ambition than to gain for G-od adorers in spirit and 
in truth. Marceau s history is well known ; it is 
simple and beautiful, like his character. A nephew 
of General Marceau and sole inheritor of a name 
that figures so brilliantly in our military annals, he 
thought on leaving the Polytechnic to take a rank 
in the army, to which his tastes called him, and 
where the antecedents of his uncle seemed to pro 
mise him a splendid future. But in some sort he 
was not free to follow his inclinations. A superior 
officer asked him ; " How can you think of enter 
ing a career wherein a relative of the same name 
has distinguished himself ? You should aim at an 
independent and personal glory." Urged on all 
sides to join the navy, he yielded. " And so for 
twenty years," lie remarked to a worthy priest in 
1849, "I have been wandering over the sea with 
out either liking or disliking it. Providence had 
its designs. I could not have done for the missions 
the little services I have been permitted to do if I 
had not been a sailor."* 

* See " Auguste Marceau, Captain of Frigate, Commander 
of the Arche d* Alliance," by one of his friends. 



Preludes of Vocation. 211 

The little services he speaks of with such Chris 
tian humility would pass for great ones in the eyes 
of any other than he, and if we consider what they 
cost him they are simply heroic. To devote him 
self to that work, whose importance he fully under 
stood, he sacrificed his future, his repose, his 
health, and, to a certain point, the consideration 
he enjoyed in the service. When it was known 
that he had sent in his resignation in order to take 
command of a merchant vessel, and that at the 
very moment he was about to receive the epaulets of 
a captain of corvette, it was feared he had lost his 
senses. " Why, you are crazy ! " one of his friends 
said to him. " Yes," he replied ; " humanly speak 
ing, I am crazy; but I hope that by faith my folly 
will become wisdom, for I work by faith and for 
faith." What victories had he not to gain over his 
natural pride when he constituted himself a beggar 
and alms-collector for the Societe Frai^aise de 
1 Oceanie, exposing himself to be treated as a 
sharper, or but little less than one, while at the 
same time he was noways deceived as to the thousand 
chances against the success of the enterprise ? But 
there were thousands of souls to be saved ; without 
him, without the cruise he proposed to make in the 
Arche d* Alliance, the poor islanders of Ocean ica 
would have to wait a long time yet for the visit of 
the missionaries, and several young Churches would 
suffer. He did not hesitate ; setting out in 1846, 
he returned to France only in 1849, and when 
Clerc met him in Paris it was already nearly a year 
since, sick, worn out, aged before his time, and 



212 Alexis Clerc. 

satiated with disappointments of all sorts, he had 
become for those who were capable of appreciating 
holiness one of the grandest examples offered to 
the respect and admiration of our century. Ani 
mated by the same sentiments, and fully dis 
posed for the same sacrifices, how greatly Alexis 
must have enjoyed the conversation of the noble 
sailor who had realized, in a certain degree, the ideal 
that he himself, together with the commander of 
the Cassini, was then cherishing ! Marceau s great 
idea was the creation of a religious navy. An im 
possibility !" the world exclaims. Undoubtedly if 
the Government refuses any assistance, the difficulty 
will be almost insurmountable ; but if it is pro 
pitious there will not be wanting men of good will 
to undertake every two or three years an expedi 
tion similar to the one whose history we are about 
to sketch ; and if the French flag should thus 
travel along all the coasts of the universe, ap 
pearing everywhere as a sign of concord and peace, 
and carrying in its folds the good news, we may be 
lieve that its glory would not be dimmed. Marceau 
died ; he spent the remnant of his failing strength 
in a retreat made at Notre Dame de Liesse under 
the direction of the Eev. Father Fouillot. Here 
again is an unexpected similarity. It will be in 
this same community (transferred to Laon) that 
Clerc, twenty years later, will pass the last year of 
his life (1869-70) in the exercises of the third pro 
bation, which are to prepare him for martyrdom. 
God united them only for a moment on earth, but 
he reserved for them something better than that 



Preludes of Vocation. 2 1 3 

he had made those two great hearts for one an 
other. Oh ! how Marceau must have welcomed 
our Alexis when he saw him, in his turn, landing 
on the shores of eternity decorated with the stig 
mata of victory ! 

At the close of January, 1851, Marceau left for 
Tours with his mother, and some days later Alexis 
heard of the death of his friend. He hastened to 
console, by sharing her grief, the poor mother whom 
this separation plunged into mourning. She was 
a woman of strong faith, but who had not always 
been such ; by an unusual and touching exchange 
of parts, she had received from her son what most 
sons owe to the lessons and example of a Christian 
mother. Here is her letter, which Clerc preserved 
as a relic, and which we were delighted to find : 
"J. M. J. 

" FEBEUAEY 18, 1851. 

" It was yesterday, my dear sir, that I received 
your kind letter, and before opening it I con 
jectured all its contents. The thought of you, 
of Mr. de Plas, and of good Doctor Montargis has, 
so to speak, been constantly present to my mind 
ever since the fatal blow struck me. I saw, in the 
few moments that I had the pleasure of your ac 
quaintance, all the affection he bore you, and I 
could not doubt of the sympathy he found in you, 
and I felt a sort of consolation in thinking that 
your tears would be mingled with mine. Alas ! it 
is not for that dear and good son I weep, for I 
have the sweet confidence that he now enjoys in 
the bosom of God the happiness he has promised 



214 Alexis Clerc. 

to Ms faithful servants ; but it is for myself, the 
poor old mother who had still so much need of his 
counsel and example. Nevertheless I will exert all 
my efforts to put in practice the example he gave us 
in his submission to the holy and adorable will of 
God ; daily I ask this grace of God as the most 
precious legacy of my excellent son. 

" As I am quite sure, my dear sir, that this let 
ter will be the last you can receive from me before 
your departure, I shall relate some of the circum 
stances that preceded my Augustus death, at the 
same time requesting you to communicate them to 
Mr. de Plas. You two will henceforth be joined 
in my memory, and my prayers will accompany 
you in the long and laborious expedition you are 
about to undertake. 

"It was on Tuesday, as you know, that we 
left Paris. Your dear friend bore the ride well 
enough ; only he began to suffer from the cold 
about fifteen leagues from here. At last we ar 
rived, and the feeling of happiness he experienced 
in finding himself at home again seemed to make 
him forget the fatigue of the journey.* Wednes 
day he was very feeble, which I thought was a na 
tural consequence of travelling. He retained some 
kinds of food, others he rejected. Thursday was 
not so bad j he retained almost all the nourishment 
he took ; still his weakness increased, and he no 
ticed it himself. The night of Thursday was a 
bad one ; he had frequent spells of raising blood. 

* Marceau s sister lived at Tours with his mother. 



Preludes of Vocation. 215 

Friday was much worse, inasmuch as ne suffered 
greatly from suffocation, and the physician whom I 
had called on Wednesday had deferred coming 
again until Friday, and then he did not come until 
late in the evening and after I had sent for him twice. 
Oh ! how I then regretted not having asked that 
kind Doctor Montargis to accompany us ; he would 
not have refused me. I know he could not have 
cured Augustus, but he would certainly have alle 
viated his sufferings. However, G-od had ordered 
it otherwise, and I desire, after the example of my 
dear son, to repeat : Blessed be his holy name ! 
Friday night was not so bad as the preceding one. 
He rested very well and retained the little nourish 
ment he took towards morning, but complained of 
suffocation. Towards eight o clock this increased 
and he sat up. I then proposed to him to rise to 
have his bed made and to refresh himself ; he con 
sented, but without seeming anxious. I arranged 
everything, and during this time we talked, his 
sister being with us. I told him I was going to 
write to the doctor to ask him to come. That 
seemed to please him. He said to me : You will 
also write to Father Fouillot ? It is he who has 
put me in this state, therefore he ought to pray, 
and get others to pray for me. It was then near 
ly nine o clock. He told me he was ready to re 
turn to bed. I approached the fire-place to get the 
shirt I had put there to warm, when my daughter 
uttered a cry. I turned and saw the poor fellow 
in a horrible convulsion. I tried to make him in 
hale salts and swallow some water of La Salette ; 



216 Alexis Clerc. 

my daughter sent quickly for the physician ; I 
told her to send also for the priest, who did not 
delay coming. The superior of the Ladies of the 
Presentation, of whom he is the chaplain, followed 
him and bestowed upon my Augustus all the spiri 
tual and corporal help in her power. The convul 
sion being over, extreme unction was administered; 
at each unction the dear boy asked pardon of God. 
After Holy Communion the Sister cleansed u his 
mouth, he blew his nose himself, then she made 
him take two small spoonfuls of meat jelly, which 
lie seemed to like. After this, with that gentleness 
and kindness which you know belonged to him, he 
looked at the Sister of Charity and said to her : 
Thank you, Sister, thank you. This marked im 
provement continued about half an hour. I acknow 
ledge, dear sir, my son had so many times repeated 
to me that Almighty God would perform a miracle 
in his favor and cure him that just then I believed 
it was to be so. But my hope was quickly destroy 
ed. A second convulsion, much more frightful 
than the first, seized him, and at half-past eleven 
his beautiful soul was in the presence of God. 

" At that moment the smile returned to his lips, 
and his features, contracted by his horrible suffer 
ings, became calm and beautiful again. I saw him 
the next afternoon, more than twenty-four hours 
later ; he was not at all changed and seemed in me 
ditation. I embraced him, saying au revoir, for I 
rely upon his obtaining for me the graces I so 
greatly need in order to deserve to join him some 
day. 



Preludes of Vocation. 217 

" I do not doubt that these details will be pre 
cious to you and Mr. de Plas, and I have found in 
the thought that I could thus testify my gratitude 
for the affection you both bore my Augustus 
strength to write them. As for me, dear sir, 
though Almighty God has struck me in what I 
held dearest, I know not how to thank him suffi 
ciently for all the graces he has deigned to bestow 
upon me, not only by preparing me for the greatest 
of sacrifices by a retreat, but also by permitting 
that dear and] good, son, who since his return to 
France had led so wandering a life, to come to die 
with us, so that I might take care of him at the 
last, and might have the sweet and precious conso 
lation of praying at his tomb. There I do not 
doubt I shall obtain precious graces ; while praying 
for myself I shall pray for you, dear sirs ; I shall 
ask him to obtain for you all the graces you need, 
to place you under the protection of our holy 
Mother whom he loved so deeply, and to bring you 
some day, if that be in the decrees of Providence, 
to pray with me over his tomb. 

" As there is nothing I am more anxious to do 
than to satisfy your pious wishes, I send for you 
and Mr. de Plas two books, two medals, four pic 
tures, and a bit of the cravat he wore in his last 
days ; I have selected these objects from among the 
most worn of his things, as having been more used 
by him, thinking that thus they would be more 
precious to you. I add a copy of Canticles for 
the Month of Mary/ and a ( Litany of the Will of 
God which we ought after his example to try to 



21 8 Alexis Clerc. 

make profitable ; finally, you will find in the par 
cel a tiny lock of hair. 

"I cannot conclude without mentioning the 
kind, the excellent Mr. Montargis, who, after hav 
ing "bestowed so much care on Augustus body, took 
such extraordinary pains the last week to procure 
Masses and prayers for his soul. 

"Farewell, kind friends of my son. Pray for 
the aged and unfortunate mother who promises 
you her sincere affection. Yours in the Sacred 
Hearts of Jesus and Mary, 

" MAJRCEAU, SERVAKT or MARY." 

Marceau s mother signs herself servant of Mary, 
because she belonged to the Third Order of the So 
ciety of Mary. If Marceau had lived, he would 
himself have finished his days in that society, 
bound by the vows of religion and consecrated by 
holy orders. This was at least his ambition when 
it pleased God to put an end to his exile and 
crown his merits, which were far in excess of the 
appreciable results of the work to which this man 
of desires had sacrificed himself. 



CHAPTER VII. 

ALEXIS CLERC LIEUTENANT ON BOARD THE " CASSINI ."- 
FROM LORIENT TO SHANGHAI. 

OK the 6th of March, 1851, at seven o clock in the 
morning, the Cassini left the harbor of Lorient, 
and, reviving an ancient custom fallen into disuse 
since the first revolution, saluted with all its ar 
tillery the sanctuary of Notre Dame de 1 Armor. 
At the same time the missionaries who were pas 
sengers on board intoned the " Ave Maris Stella," 
which the whole ship s company sang with marvel 
lous earnestness. Priests and sailors united in one 
same thought of faith, supplicated the Star of the 
Sea to be propitious to their voyage, and to bless 
the very diverse enterprises which separated them 
from their country these for several years, those, 
or at least the greater part of them, for the re 
mainder of their lives, which they had entirely 
devoted to the salvation of souls. 

It was an august and touching spectacle. On 
the deck were seen two bishops one, Mgr. Ve- 
rolles, illustrious by long labors, was returning to 
his vicariate-apostolic of Mantchooria ; the other, 
Mgr. Desprez (now Archbishop of Toulouse), was 
on his way to inaugurate the bishopric of Saint 
Denis (Island of Bourbon), that is, to take posses 
sion of that see of which he was the first bishop. 

219 



22O Alexis Clerc. 

Two vicars-general, three priests of the Foreign 
Missions, a chaplain attached to the Cassini, 
and, finally, three nuns of St. Joseph, destined 
also to carry afar the name and the good odor of 
Jesus Christ, loudly proclaimed by their pres 
ence the entirely Catholic character of the ex 
pedition. The staff of officers, excellently well 
chosen, exceeded somewhat the strict regulation 
number, and included five lieutenants, one ad 
ministrative officer, two physicians, and six mid 
shipmen, four of whom had been selected from 
among the best cadets of the school-ship. 

The Cassini, a corvette with a screw-propeller 
of two hundred horse-power, carried six guns and 
counted one hundred and twenty men, officers in 
cluded, which equipage would, in case of necessity, 
form quite a respectable military force. The Cas 
sini was bound for Bourbon and China. 

The duties of chaplain (without the official title) 
were discharged by the Abbe Cambier, of the 
clergy of Paris, who, to join the expedition, had 
voluntarily left the parish of Saint Pierre du Gros 
Caillou, of which he was curate. Having been ap 
pointed some years since pastor of Saint Jacques 
and Saint Christophe de la Villette, he in the kind 
est possible manner has loaned us the journal he 
kept during that cruise of the Cassini, solely for 
the sake of pouring out his heart into the bosom 
of a friend. 

Furnished with the faculties which his Lordship 
the Bishop of Vannes had granted him for the entire 
cruise, and installed as comfortably as was possible 



From Lor lent to Shanghai. 221 

in his floating parish, the Abbe Cambier, after 
having made the acquaintance of his new flock, 
formed his first impressions, and consigned them 
to his journal as follows : " The sailors seem young, 
and with not much experience of the sea ; but they 
will soon learn, and things will go on the better 
for it if Providence deigns to favor us ever so little. 
Besides, all these sailors have good faces. As they 
are Bretons for the most part, the priest does not 
frighten them ; they are accustomed to seeing him 
close by, to listening to him and following his ad 
vice. Therefore I can expect docility from them. 
The cabin-boys are only six in number, and they will 
be my little pet flock. Are not these poor chil 
dren left too much to themselves .and allowed to 
mix too much with the crew ? At their age the free 
conversations they hear may be fatal to them. To 
separate the cabin-boys from the men as much as 
possible, to watch them with scrupulous attention, 
to instruct them, would seem to me a necessary 
thing. It is to be supposed they they are not neg 
lected ; experience will doubtless inform me about 
this. The men number a hundred and twenty ; 
they will be my harvest ; may it prove a good one ! 
Without any doubt I might say that it will, had I 
as my only pledge and guarantee the example of 
the commander and the officers. Were I not al 
ready convinced of the power of good example, I 
should soon become so on board the Cassini. I 
have said that Mr. de Plas is a good Christian ; he 
knows that he has under his authority not only 
bodies but souls, and he makes of the navy much 



222 Alexis Clerc. 

less a means of advancement for himself than an 
opportunity of exercising his enlightened zeal in 
favor of those he is appointed to command." 

Then Abbe Cambier says a word about each of 
the officers : " His first officer that is, the one 
who is called the lieutenant in command, because 
he has supreme control of all the details of the 
vessel his lieutenant-commander, I say [we know 
that it was Lieutenant Bernaert], is likewise a 
Christian of the good old stamp. His body is en 
feebled by long and hard service, but his heart is 
young and vigorous. He has undertaken the 
Chinese expedition only to offer his assistance to 
the missionaries; his boxes are full of religious 
objects which he destines for them ; one of his 
intentions is to propagate the Society of St. Vin 
cent de Paul ; also to organize a conference on 
board, if possible." 

Abbe Cambier is careful not to forget the sub 
ject of our biography, and this is how he expresses 
himself : " Lastly, I must say a few words about 
the youngest lieutenant, Mr. Clerc, a pupil of the 
Polytechnic School. An officer selected by the 
commander, his piety and talents justify the choice. 
If he continues in the navy I think his future will 
be prosperous. He is but twenty-six years old,* 
and is already a lieutenant. The career before 
him is a long one ; he has in his favor youth, 
health, and merit. I would not be surprised if he 
should exchange the coat for the habit ; his fervor 

* Clerc was then past thirty-one ; his low stature and his 
habitual gayety probably made him appear younger. 



From Lorient to Shanghai. 223 

is that of a religious. Undoubtedly, the epaulets 
are very honorable ; the priest s cassock is far more 
so, but it must be given by God with the voca 
tion. ..." 

The worthy chaplain informs us how he exer 
cised on board the vessel a ministry that was wholly 
of peace and persuasion, that imposed on the men 
no constraint and no annoyance : " In the morning, 
after the reveille, at six o clock at sea and five 
o clock in harbor, I said prayers Our Father, 
Hail Mary, and a prayer I had composed for 
the sailors. When the furnaces were lighted I de 
scended to the engine-room and performed the 
same devotions there. In the evening, after the 
reading of the penalties of the day and the choice 
of hammocks, I said night-prayers in the midst of 
the men, all standing and with heads uncovered. 
On Tuesdays at half-past one there was catechism 
for the cabin-boys ; Sundays Mass was celebrated 
at a quarter-past ten ; it commenced with the 
Asperges, and in harbor there was an instruc 
tion on the G-ospel of the day. At sea, at two 
o clock Sunday afternoons, I gave an instruction 
to the crew. A few strokes of the bell announced 
all these exercises, and those only came who want 
ed to, even to the morning and night prayers." 

Not only was the Christian life thus freely prac 
tised on board the Cassini, but Jesus Christ him 
self had his throne erected, as was proper, in 
the place of honor. "Yes," says Abbe Cam- 
bier, " we had a real chapel on our vessel a 
chapel perfectly appointed with altar, taberna- 



224 Alexis Clerc. 

cle, crucifix, presses for the vestments ; a chapel 
where we had the happiness of possessing the Bless 
ed Sacrament. If you have occasionally visited 
some vessel in one of our ports, you must be ac 
quainted with the part called the poop. It consists 
of one or several rooms built on deck, either af ore- 
ships or, and more frequently, aft. On ships and 
frigates this poop is used as the parlor and office 
of the commander. On the Cassini it was in 
three divisions. The right and left were appro 
priated to the two bishops; the centre one was the 
chapel, closed with folding-doors, which were 
opened for the celebration of Mass. The interior 
was finished in pine, veneered with varnished lime- 
tree wood. On the front of the altar were some 
symbolical ornaments carved in violet ebony. 
The crucifix that surmounted the tabernacle was 
of walnut wood ; it was not cut by a sculptor, bub 
only by an humble joiner who plied his trade in 
the port ; yet it was not less a little cJief-d ouvre as 
well as the whole chapel. The artisans of Lorient 
had bestowed upon this tiny chapel all their skill, 
and success had crowned their efforts. 

" If I were talking," adds the good and worthy 
priest, "to a Christian without faith or under 
standing of the things of faith, I would not enter 
into these details, but I know that it will be a 
pleasure to you to hear them, and that my words 
will find an echo in your heart. Was it not for 
us all on board the Cassini a wonderful good 
fortune to possess the Most Blessed Sacrament ? 
Around and above us the sea and the sky displayed 



From Lor ient to Shanghai. 225 

\ ^ 

the power of God ; close to us, with us, the Eucha 
rist revealed his goodness and love. Is it as 
tonishing that the waves howed down, so to speak, 
before our vessel to allow it an easy and rapid pro 
gress ? Is it astonishing that peace reigned con 
stantly in our midst, and that numerous blessings 
were reserved for us ? The Cassini bore in her 
bosom the God of the universe, he who walked on 
the Sea of Galilee, and who with a single word stilled 
the tempests I " 

The voyage was, from beginning to end, a most 
pleasant one. It is true that at starting the sea, 
which was rather rough, tried some of the passen 
gers, but in a little while the weather became very 
tolerable for the season, and, after a six days sail, 
on the 12th of March the vessel cast anchor off 
Funchal, one of the Madeira Islands. The stay 
lasted three days ; coal was taken in rapidly, and 
a supply of fresh provisions permitted the Cassini & 
company to reach the Cape of Good Hope in the 
best of health. " On Easter Day * the corvette was 
near enough the Cape to warrant an unusual con 
sumption of coal. The order was therefore given 
to put on all her steam, and the Cassini attained 
a speed of about ten miles an hour. The sea was 
smooth as a lake, so nothing prevented the plan 
of having a High Mass from being put in execution. 
Mgr. Desprez was very willing to officiate ; some 
cabin-boys, nicely dressed and intelligent, were 
turned into choristers, and, thanks to the mission- 

* I am hero following, or rather faithfully copying, from the 
motes of Commander do Plas. 



226 Alexis Clerc. 

aries, to the nuns who were passengers, and to a 
lieutenant who was a good musician, the singing 
left nothing to be desired." 

Alexis Clerc wrote from Cape Town to his fa 
ther : " We arrived here April 22 at two o clock in 
the morning, after a very fortunate voyage, during 
which we escaped all bad weather and all the other 
miseries of sea life. Easter Day was a real festival 
for the ship ; the weather and the sea were perfect 
ly beautiful. It is not very difficult to touch the 
simple hearts of these good Bretons, but it is 
sweeter to remember those happy moments than to 
talk of them." 

The preparation of the sailors had been most 
careful, and their chaplain s efforts were crowned 
with complete success. "I told them," he re 
lates, "that confession was for them the plank 
of safety after shipwreck ; the word once said*, 
I repeated it ; they grew accustomed to hear 
ing it ; it ended by sounding less harsh to their 
ears, and soon after it found an entrance in their 
hearts. When the thought of Confession is in the 
heart, and is there in such a way that it cannot 
fail of being understood, it is not long before it is 
put in practice. This is precisely what happened 
on our vessel. The sailors began by badgering one 
another about it, and finished by confessing. Our 
Holy Week was entirely taken up with piety." 

Another religious solemnity awaited them at the 
Cape. Mgr. Griffith was preparing for the dedica 
tion of his church j he anticipated the ceremony 
by several days, so that the pomp might be in- 



From Lorient to Shanghai. 227 

creased by the presence of the two bishops and of 
the numerous clergy of the Cassini. 

The commander and his staff were also invited, 
and once more showed themselves sincerely Catho 
lic. 

" Day before yesterday (Monday)/ Alexis wrote 
to his father,* " the bishop of the Cape dedicated 
his church. The Cassini took part in the festival ; 
it was represented by its clergy and by a deputation 
of officers and sailors. Our two bishops and our 
seven priests added greatly to the pomp of the 
ceremony, and a Regina Coeli and an * Salu- 
taris were sung with very good effect. The French 
consul had the first place in the ceremony ; the 
officers of the Cassini ranked with him. It is 
thus that everywhere, excepting at home, we are 
Catholics. But how much better it is not to be so 
through necessity and from political interest as 
the English are Protestants and to bring to the 
true, inborn opinions of our race that adhesion of 
the heart which proves us to be sons of those who 
founded the power and glory of France ! 

" The English are now establishing a regular 
communication between the Cape and England. It 
will be very rapid thirty-three or thirty-four. days ; 
several packets have already made the passage in that 
time ; propellers are the style of vessels employed. 
When the project is completed the Cape will be only 

*Let us remark, once for all, that the greater part of Alexis 
letters during this voyage being addressed to his father, we 
shall not continue to mention this each time, being careful, 
however, to inform the reader when they are addressed to 
any one else. 



228 Alexis Clerc. : . 

a way-station, and the packets will go on to Mauri 
tius, then to Ceylon ; others will go to New Hol 
land. We cannot help envying this energy and 
enterprise, and, if England s object was not at the 
price of such great efforts to sell her cotton-goods, 
we would have to bow before a superiority laudable 
in its end as well as in its means. . . . That com 
merce should be not a means of greatness, but the 
greatness of a country, is impossible, and the na 
tion that applies to such small interests so con 
siderable a power will one day be judged from this 
point of view." 

The Cassini left the Cape May 3. The month 
of Mary was not forgotten. Every evening, when 
the sun had disappeared beneath the waves, all 
gathered like one family before Mary s altar, erect 
ed in the chapel on deck, and there they prayed 
with their whole hearts, and sang with loudest 
voices canticles of praise to the august Mother. 
Sailors and passengers were very fond of a refrain 
that was remarkably appropriate to them : 

" Exiles de notre patrie, 

Nous voguons au milieu des flots ; 
Soyez notre e*toile, 6 Marie I 
Soyez aussi notre repos."* 

Thus they reached Bourbon May 21. Mgr. 
Desprez landed the morning of the 22d ; saluted by 
the Cassini s guns, he was received on shore by the 
commander of the troops of the garrison, Lieuten- 

* " Exiles from our country, 

We wander o er the waves ; 
Be thqu our star, O Mary 1 
Be likewise our repose." 



From Lor lent to Shanghai. 229 

ant-Colonel do Oendrecourfc ; after this he was es 
corted processionally to his cathedral, where he 
took possession of his see according to the canoni 
cal forms. Alexis wrote: "The ceremony was 
very beautiful, both by reason of the august pomp 
of our religious solemnities and of the immense 
concourse of people that welcomed a new autho 
rity whose paternal tenderness and tutelary care 
they. foresaw without understanding it. But the 
bishop s allocution, in which he traced his plan of 
conduct and its object, was the crowning jcy of the 
festival, because it revealed all his charity in a sim 
ple way, and showed him by a few words what our 
constant intercourse with him on shipboard had 
taught us he was." A shadow, however, fell upon 
the picture. Keferring to a newspaper article, 
"which would have been perfectly well placed 
in the National" Alexis adds: " How sad to still 
see what is most exalted in the social scale giving 
an example not only of indifference to our holy 
religion but of positive aggression. Is not a coun 
try where the government, the administration of 
justice, and the system of education are anti- 
Christian, very near being a pagan state ? " 

Another letter turns upon the Madagascar mis 
sion and the hopes of colonization to which it gave 
rise. We feel very plainly the true ring of the 
French spirit in this familiar talk : 

" It would seem that they are trying there (in 
Madagascar) a new system of colonization, or, to 
speak more exactly, without any system they are 
pursuing a course which the nature of things indi- 



230 Alexis Clerc. 

cates, but which is new. There is no purpose of 
reducing the natives to servitude, nor of destroying 
them by war because they are warlike ; they are to 
be taught and themselves made the colonists of 
their island. There are at different points Jesuit 
missionaries, untiring laborers, who are the means 
of this new plan. It has not, I repeat, been sys 
tematically adopted ; it is followed because it is 
possible. The present governor of Mayotta, who 
exercises authority over the other possessions, is a 
superior man who seems to thoroughly under 
stand the position. The climate of Madagascar is 
murderous to Europeans ; the missionaries have 
made Bourbon their hospital ; they go there weary 
and feverish, stay long enough to restore health 
and strength, and then return to combat until 
death. Their hospital is at the same time a col 
lege ; they have there about forty young Madagas- 
cans, little negroes who in spite of their color look 
like good children. They teach them reading, 
writing, religion, and a trade, and, once grown to 
manhood, establish them in homes. If these people 
do not love a country which sends them such de 
voted masters, who at the price of their own lives 
for the missionaries always end by leaving their 
bones on these foreign sliores teach them to live 
physically and morally, they are very ungrateful. 
If they did but know how different are the usual 
methods of colonization, what would they not say 
in our praise ! 

" Meanwhile, in the vicinity of this college the 
Sisters of St. Joseph rear to labor and virtue about 



From Lor lent to Shanghai. 231 

forty little Madagascar! girls, probably the future 
wives of the forty boys. The plan is well under 
way, and the poor islanders, who are without malice 
or guile, are all capable of letting themselves be 
led like children when they shall see the fruits 
of Christian civilization. Alas ! why are there so 
many places in France where the sight would be as 
novel as in Madagascar ? 

" I delight in dwelling on the idea. As the 
children are still in the hands of their teachers, I 
speak only of my desires, of rny hopes, of my 
dreams if you will. But even if the success should 
not correspond to the hopes it would not lessen 
the merit of the enterprise. This is what I love 
in our generous country : she uses her superiority 
to protect, not to subjugate. Here the field is 
small, it is true, but it is not less a noble use of her 
power. Other nations may be, and are generally, 
more skilful colonizers ; they know not how to be, 
like us, true civilizers." 

Towards the middle of June the Cassini had to 
think about resuming her voyage to India and 
China. The Abbe Cambier had embarked only for 
Bourbon ; for a moment, however, he hoped to be 
able to defer a parting which only to think of broke 
his heart. If the corvette Eurydice had arrived a 
few days later the worthy chaplain would have stayed 
with the Cassini as far as China. The time for the 
departure of the latter vessel was very near when a 
French war-vessel was signalled at the lookout of 
the master of the port ; an hour later a second sig 
nal indicated her number : she was the Eurydice. 



232 Alexis Clerc. 

" I saw at a distance this corvette approaching," 
he wrote in his journal, "and the sight troubled 
me. What was going to happen ? My God/ I 
murmured, dost thou exact of me a new sacrifice? 
Grant me strength to accomplish it ! 

"June 15," Abbe Cambier continues, " towards 
ten o clock a boat came from the Eurydice to the 
Cassini. A midshipman climbed on board and 
delivered to the commander a packet from the 
commander of the station. This packet was no 
thing less than an order to pass from the Cassini 
to the Eurydice in quality of chaplain of the naval 
station of La Reunion, and that within twenty-four 
hours. All objections were useless. God demand 
ed a sacrifice of me. I must obey him; would that 
I had done it in a manner more meritorious for 
heaven ! Tears were shed on both sides ; as for 
me, I wept the most, . . . and when the moment 
of parting came it was not only tears but sobs 
which my broken heart could not contain. 

" The next day but one the Cassini weighed an 
chor and steamed out of the harbor of Saint Denis. 
I had not the courage to witness her starting off. 
When I went up on the deck of the Eurydice there 
was still visible in the far distant horizon a column 
of smoke. . . . That smoke came from the Cassi- 
ni s engine, and there was nothing more needed to 
make my tears flow afresh. I descended to my 
room, and that day was one of the saddest I 
ever spent from the time I was old enough to be 
acquainted with sorrow and heartaches." 

These lines, which we would not have omitted, 



From Lor lent to Shanghai. 233 

are the highest praise of the Cassini, and they will 
not be read without exciting a respectful sympathy 
for their writer, who was capable of loving souls 
with so tender and pure an affection in the Lord. 

July 14 the Cassini anchored before Acheen, 
the capital of a kingdom of the same name situated 
in the extreme northwest of the island, of Sumatra. 
The object was to obtain satisfaction for the very 
inhospitable welcome given to a Neapolitan ship, 
the Clementina, whose captain and first and second 
lieutenants had been victims of a terrible treachery, 
accompanied by robbery and pillage.* Clerc was 
sent in a boat to find the sultan and his capital. 
Geographers speak of a city of twenty thousand 
souls, of a fleet of five hundred sail, of an army of 
sixty thousand men who, with the same number of 
Hollanders, besieged Malacca. He saw no vestige 
of all this, and asked himself if it were not a fic 
tion. Nevertheless, nothing is more certain than 
that in the sixteenth century the sultans of Acheen 
were strong enough to drive the Portuguese from 
the island, and that at that epoch they received 
embassies from all the states of Europe. There 
is a sequel to the tale: since the visit of the 
Cassini that fallen power has restored the honor of 
its flag, and quite recently the Dutch were twice 
obliged to renew their efforts and reinforce their 
troops to escape being compelled to retreat before 
it. What our compatriots saw in 1851 gave them 



* The thieves had stolen to the value of about twenty-two 
thousand dollars, of which the commander of the Cassini de 
manded the restitution. 



234 Alexis Clerc. 

no presentiment of such a revival of energy and 
warlike spirit. 

Clerc s first business on landing is to procure an 
interpreter ; he finds one who knows a few words 
of French, and engages him for want of a better. 
Then he sets about hunting up the sultan, discov 
ers his palace not without difficulty, and obtains an 
audience. Hardly has he explained the object of 
his mission when the Malayan monarch com 
mands to be taken from a casket a case, and from 
this case a paper certifying the cordial friendship 
existing between the sublime sultan and the Empe 
ror of France, Louis Philippe. "Not exactly 
knowing," Clerc says, "how to express my respect 
for that sovereign document, I solemnly kissed the 
paper, and to the questions asked me about the 
king I was very happy to be able to reply that he 
was dead ; for to make that worthy sultan under 
stand that we discharge our kings with less cere 
mony than other people do their servants, seemed 
a task too hard for me ; he would have believed 
himself to have been outwitted and that his paper 
was of no value." 

The next day there is a solemn audience given 
to the commander of the Cassini, who is attended 
by a numerous staff. When the sultan is asked 
what he will do to punish the criminals who are 
men of Dahia, ho replies, after repudiating all par 
ticipation in the crimes they are charged with, that 
he can do absolutely nothing. 

The interpreter being inefficient and the sultan 
badly disposed, Commander de Plas and his officers 



From Lor lent to Shanghai. 235 

withdraw somewhat dissatisfied. The following 
day, after an exchange of presents, the Cassini 
leaves for Poulo-Pinang ; there a more skilful in 
terpreter is procured, and the supply of coal re 
plenished ; then, returning to Sumatra, the vessel 
passes Acheen without stopping and drops anchor 
in sight of Clouang. 

"There is nowhere," Clerc writes, " a country 
more beautiful than this ; its landscape is irregu 
lar, and the richest vegetation covers all the moun 
tains to their very summits ; the trees crowd on 
the sea, so to speak. We passed close to the 
shore. Clouang in particular is remarkable for its 
beauty. The anchorage is between a rocky islet 
and a high, wooded hill ; in front of us is a low 
and fertile shore where a river has its outlet ; the 
river, as well as the island and the country, is 
named Clouang. A little distance inland other hills 
rise from the plain and indicate a fertile and well- 
watered country." 

From Clouang they repair to Dahia, and there 
the interpreter and seven men are sent on shore to 
present to the rajah a letter in which the comman 
der declares that he wishes to arrest the guilty 
without striking the innocent. The two culprits 
being really found at Dahia, as soon as the inter 
preter has returned to the ship a couple of boats 
are armed, and Clerc, at the head of a force of fifty 
men, is charged with the capture of the Malay 
chief who committed the murder. Let us leave 
him to describe this little expedition himself : 

" We found an extremely rapid current at the 



236 Alexis Clerc. 

bar of the river ; the waters were swollen by the 
rains (occasioned by the southwest monsoon). For 
two entire hours we struggled vainly against this 
unexpected obstacle, and all the while within a 
pistol-shot of the shore ; but I had already seen 
enough of the Malays at Acheen not to be fright 
ened at that ; moreover, the current would have 
quickly carried us out of their reach if we had 
needed to escape from them. During the long 
struggle once I ran my boat on a coral reef which 
forms the bar and renders the current so rapid ; I 
was already just above it ; we were in the greatest 
danger of being filled with water and dashed to 
pieces ; the boat was tossed from side to side. 
But the sailors remained calmly in their places, 
and the Hand that protects the Cassmi, with a sin 
gle little wave rescued the boat, which, impelled by 
the current, overleaped the bar and returned to 
the assault of the river. At last we stepped on 
shore. I sent six men with a midshipman to form 
an ambuscade, and, having provided for the guard 
ing of the boats, I started with the rest of the men 
for the fort of Kerjeroun-Siadom. To enter this 
stronghold cost us only the trouble of opening or 
forcing the doors ; there was nobody within. We 
next went to the murderer s dwelling; again no 
body. Then I heard the reports of muskets ; my 
search was ended. I returned uneasily to the 
shore and found my ambuscade, who, in spite of 
positive orders not to fire unless they were attacked, 
had levelled at the fugitive. Fortunately no 
one was wounded. We crossed the river and paid 



From Lorient to Shanghai. 237 

an equally unsuccessful visit to the other culprit, 
Etadji-Malot. After this we returned to the ship. 
The next day before leaving we burned the houses 
of those two men." To shorten the story, when 
the sultan learned what had taken place at Dahia 
he became more tractable, and shortly afterwards 
he bound himself in a written agreement with the 
commander of the Cassini to pursue with all the 
means in his power the cowardly aggressors of the 
Clementina. 

The Neapolitan Government, informed of what 
had been done to inflict an exemplary punishment 
on the criminals, sent the decoration of Saint 
Georges de la Reunion to Mr. de Plas and the 
cross of the Merite de Naples to his lieutenant. 
Alexis never wore that badge of honor, which 
reached him in France at the moment when he 
was laying aside his uniform to be clothed with the 
livery of Jesus Christ. 

After having again touched atPoulo-Pinangand 
made a stop at Singapore, the Cassini entered the 
China Sea, and towards the end of August she an 
chored in front of Macao, a city already almost en 
tirely Chinese, and the gate of the Celestial Em 
pire. All along the route Clerc had met quite a 
large number of Chinamen ; he had seen them at 
Bourbon and Sumatra, as well as at Poulo-Pinang 
and Singapore, and he had admired their remark 
able facility for establishing themselves according 
to their own fashions and carrying China with 
them everywhere. But in Macao he saw them in 
gross and at home, and his observing mind regard- 



238 Alexis Clerc. 

ing them with attentive curiosity, he was struck 
with their original and somewhat grotesque phy 
siognomy. This weakness is pardonable in a tho- 
, rough Parisian such as he was. At the very first 
glance at the Macaons he had a veritable explosion 
of hilarity, and his laughter resounded as far as 
Paris. 

" I want to say a few words to you about the 
Celestial Empire, at the gate of which we now are. 
I have not seen a great deal of it, but I have seen 
persons who are better acquainted with China than 
the Chinese are themselves, Father Hue, whose 
work you have read, and other missionaries who 
have met with similar adventures. 

" In the first place, the most exact model of a 
Chinaman is the representation seen on what we 
call Chinese screens. It is enough to make one 
die laughing to meet the originals of those comi 
cal portraits. Travellers are not all men of vera 
city, as we learn when we visit distant countries 
with their descriptions in our hands ; but fortu 
nately no traveller ever invented the Chinese 
queue. It must certainly be for the sake of dissi 
pating the melancholy of foreigners that they all 
carry about this singular appendage. Note well, 
it is not one of those little rat-tails such as are 
worn with ailes de pigeon (a way of arranging the 
hair) ; these are queues of magnificent develop 
ment and reach down to the ankles. The Chinese 
are quite capable of fraud ; therefore I believe 
that there are many queues ornamenting heads 
other than those that raised them ; but in general 



From Lorient to Shanghai. 239 

the Chinese have abundant hair. Finally, whether 
their queues belong to them or not, they turn them 
into cravats when they are in the way. 

" Grotesque as he is, the Chinaman is a keen, 
active, and economical merchant, and also an arti 
san who cannot be surpassed. His character is a 
most remarkable one. He lives OQ a little rice, 
wears garments of very small cost, and, we may 
say, unites in his person the most marked contrasts ; 
he is lazy, and at the same time very active, very 
sober, and very gluttonous, very ingenious and 
very circumscribed ; but he is especially cunning 
and insinuating. A great fuss is made about the 
settlement the English have accomplished at Hong 
Kong ; I fear the profit of it will not be theirs. 
Unquestionably, the great mandarins who, after 
having enriched themselves, run the almost sure 
risk of being exiled or impoverished, if not worse, 
will be only wise to jump into Hong Kong, which 
is so near by, and purchase a palace. 

" The English, it is true, understand coloniza 
tion perfectly, and they have discovered that its 
first condition is that the colonists live in the pur 
suit of what they call comfort ; while we are only 
camped in our colonies they are regularly at home, 
and they are right in a great measure ; these cli 
mates debilitate us only too soon. But in Hong 
Kong they have exceeded, in my opinion, what is 
well, and have built a city of palaces. A certain 
commercial house, for instance, has expended in 
the construction of its counting-rooms 150,000 
piasters (the piaster is worth here six francs 



240 Alexis Clerc^ \ 

twenty-five centimes). It will require an immense 
business to cover such advances and the general 
expenses of the future. Foreigners English and 
Americans, with scarcely an exception are en 
gaged only iri extensive commercial transactions, 
and everything else is done by the Chinese. But 
I believe that these last are the white ants of the 
city and that they will undermine it." 

What strikes him more than all the rest is the 
superiority of the Chinese in retail trade and 
little tricks of trade. " The grocers of Paris, to 
whom wicked jesters have given a queer reputa 
tion, are only school-boys compared to them. The 
skill of the Chinese in the mechanical arts is most 
remarkable ; it is astonishing to see how cheap 
their bamboo work is." 

But his judgment of them as a whole is less 
favorable : " All these petty qualities do not con 
stitute even a petty virtue, and, in short, they are 
a miserable people who never have been and never 
will be able to rise from artisans to artists ; who 
do not possess and never will possess virtue, mili 
tary or civil courage, and who from their petty 
learning will never attain to science ; who live in 
the degradation of a paganism of the most materi 
al, the narrowest, and the most foolish sort, while 
for more than two hundred years Catholic priests 
have not ceased to evangelize them." 

To this rather unflattering portrait Clerc adds 
certain less disagreeable features in the following 
letter, also dated from Macao (November 29, 1851): 
i "If there is an extraordinary spectacle for us, who 



From Lor lent to Shanghai. 241 

push our eagerness for adventure and our thirst 
for novelty to the horror of anything traditional, 
it is unquestionably this immovable people, who 
live in stupid adoration of custom, usage, even 
when they feel and recognize it to be bad. Politi 
cally and philosophically, this is the characteristic 
trait of the Chinese nation. It is also the secret 
of its life, and it cannot be gainsaid that China is 
a clear demonstration of the great importance of 
stability in institutions. This is the cause of 
China s conquest of all her conquerors. For cer 
tain persons to whom the word country signifies 
but little more than the soil they tread, and who 
understand country as something independent of 
the glories and institutions of the past this re 
markable example should be the best proof that it 
is precisely here that the source of the longevity of 
nations is to be discovered." 

The life Clerc led at Macao was not at all idle ; 
he knew how to find occupation everywhere, and 
he had with him his books, his dear books, his 
" Summa" of St. Thomas, St. Bernard s works in 
Latin ; and what besides ? certainly a part of Bos- 
suet s works witness a blank-book filled with his 
writing, bearing this heading, " On board the 
Cassinif" and containing a very full analysis of 
the " Connaissance de Dieu et de Soi-meme." 

"The Cassini," he wrote, "is, since my last let 
ter, anchored off Macao. The events which you 
want me to note for you are consequently of very 
little importance. Ours is the ordinary life on 
shipboard exercises of all sorts. However, I 



242 r Alexis Clerc. 

must tell you that I have a great joy which I hope 
you will share. It is that all these labors are not 
sterile, and that the ship begins, and justly, to be 
proud of herself. She can flatter herself that no 
enemy of the same size would find it a trifle to at 
tack her. I say this the more willingly because 
all [the word is underlined by Clerc himself] the 
honor of it belongs to the commander, who is the 
most accomplished of chiefs." 

Like a good Christian, Commander de Plas re 
turned a large proportion of this honor to his lieu 
tenant, Clerc. We are not competent to decide 
this question between them, and we can only posi 
tively state that they lived in perfect harmony of 
opinions and acts, which doubtless had a great 
deal to do with the very satisfactory result whose 
merit each generously attributed to the other. 

Clerc s religious zeal found ample occupation on 
board of a ship where the personnel was admirably 
chosen, but where there were several, especially 
among the younger officers and the cadets, who 
needed to-be strengthened in the faith and gently 
drawn to practise it. Before everything else our 
lieutenant preached by example, and the great 
charity he showed toward his comrades inspired 
them with a regard that added much efficacy to 
the insinuations of his zeal. " As soon as we cast 
anchor in a port," naval officers who sailed with 
him relate, " and permission to go on shore was 
given, Mr. Clerc would offer to replace the officer 
on watch, so as to leave him free to take immediate 
advantage of a privilege so dear to all sailors. And 



From Lorient to Shanghai* 243 

when Mr. Clerc went on shore himself, if we fol 
lowed him at a little distance we were sure to see 
him enter a church directly, for his first visit was 
always to God." * 

His piety was abundantly satisfied during his 
stay at Macao, for the Lazarists had their procura- 
torship in that city, and the Sisters of Charity had 
been established there for some time. There were 
also two Dominican Fathers, who acted as procura 
tors for the missions of their order in Cochin 
China. Alexis was not slow in making friends 
with the Spanish and French missionaries. Dur 
ing a second sojourn at Macao, the Lazarists being 
gone to Ning-po (June, 1852), he formed a close 
intimacy with the Spanish Fathers Ferrando and 
Fuixa, and had the satisfaction of finding in them 
men who joined rare learning to solid piety. 

One of those religious, Father Ferrando, was 
good enough to come on board the Cassini to cele 
brate Mass. He came in all weathers, and even 
when the sea was very rough. Lieutenant Clerc 
served the Mass in uniform, after having. made the 
boat s crew which he commanded file around. He 
preserved this custom during the whole cruise, 
even when there were among the passengers Bro 
thers of the Christian Schools quite ready to re 
place him, an employment for which their habit 
seemed better suited than his. Speaking of this, 
the commander of the Cassini adds very appropri 
ately : " The bright mind and the boundless chari- 

* Testimony gathered by Father The"bault from two of 
ficers on board the Erigone, in 1855. 



244 Alexis Clerc. 

ty of Alexis Clerc, who was always anxious to oblige 
his comrades, rendered possible to him what in 
others would have been perhaps the occasion of 
teasing, if not of quarrels on the part of the offi 
cers. In his case there was never anything of the 
kind." 

Commander de Plas may easily be suspected of 
being a little partial to his beloved lieutenant, 
therefore we will invoke the testimony of a much 
younger man who was then a simple cadet mid 
shipman on the Cassini. In early youth we are 
very observing and seldom sin through excessive 
indulgence. 

" As soon as I had the opportunity of knowing 
Mr. Clerc," this last witness tells us, "I saw him 
just as he was during the entire cruise : active and 
vigilant as an officer, unaffected and amiable in his 
intercourse with all, master of himself, faithful in 
the practice of his religious duties, and this without 
ostentation as well as without human respect. 
His walk had then contracted something of his 
interior dispositions ; he had the firm step of a 
man who has a great end to attain and a long road 
to travel. As a general thing his eyes were mod 
estly cast down." 

What follows anticipates the sojourn in China, 
but that is no matter ; what we are searching for 
now is the man, his character, the harmony be 
tween his sentiments and his life : 

"While we were cruising about, when, on our 
arrival at a port, there was a dinner or a party 
given to us, Mr. Clerc avoided attending as far as 



From Lorient to Shanghai. 245 

was in his power. Still, if there was a duty to be 
fulfilled by going to such entertainments, a service 
to render, he yielded gracefully, and took his place 
in society with that gayety and amiability which did 
not forsake him even in the sad captivity of Mazas. 
He rarely went on shore for amusement ; he was 
most frequently in his cabin working and reading. 
It was thus he made a trial -ot the new life of re 
nunciation he desired to embrace." 

These lines come to us from the Chartreuse of 

Eeposoir, in Savoy, where Mr. S. de G- , who 

sends them, is, after having attained the rank of 
lieutenant, finishing his career among the children 
of St. Bruno. An unusual and singular coinci 
dence ! Those three sailors, of different ages and 
rank, Mr. de Plas, commander of the Cassini, 

Alexis Olerc, his lieutenant, and Mr. de G , 

a cadet midshipman, all three were a little sooner 
or later to put off the liveries of the world and con 
secrate themselves to God in the religious state. 
Two Jesuits and a Carthusian ! not bad for a 
single e"tat-major ! Clerc was the only one of the 
three who at that time was nearly decided upon 
his vocation. He found himself, as is plain to see, 
in good and worthy company ; and he was not de 
ceived when, before embarking on the Cassini, he 
told whoever wanted to know that he was going to 
make a first novitiate. 

During more than a year the Cassini was unable 
to leave Macao, where she had anchorage, except 
to return for long stays that were without utility 
to the mission she had received when departing 



246 Alexis Clerc. 

from France. This inaction, so contrary to all 
they had promised themselves, to all they were 
still resolved to do, was for Commander de Plas 
and his generous companions the severest of trials. 
The news which reached them from the interior 
was not of a nature to calm their impatience. 
China, they could not doubt, was in full revolution, 
and a prey to all the evils of civil war. The in 
surgents, favored by a certain awakening of na 
tional spirit, not only held the imperial troops in 
check, but gained ground every day, and menaced 
the Tartar dynasty with complete ruin. On their 
side the imperialists did not in anywise respect the 
guarantees made so many times in favor of the 
Christians, and we had every reason to demand of 
them an account of the grave and recent infrac 
tions of the late treaties. Whatever might be the 
issue of the struggle, France, whose part is to pro 
tect moral interests especially, might be the arbiter 
of the situation. What England had done a few 
years before in the interest of her commerce the 
immoral commerce of opium could not a great 
Catholic nation do with a hundred times more 
honor for her missionaries and their neophytes ? 
If we avoided interfering in the internal politics 
of the Celestial Empire, there remained for us to 
fulfil a duty of humanity compatible with the 
strictest neutrality, and nobody in the world could 
prevent us from acting as the police of the coast 
where all the scum of the neighboring provinces 
gathered, and where, amid the pitiful confusion of 
the local authorities, there prevailed an unrestrained 



From Lor lent to Shanghai. 247 

brigandage which was free to commit all kinds of 
outrages with impunity. 

To command a ship of war armed with good 
guns, to be able to land excellent troops the mere 
sight of whom would put to flight the evil-doers, 
and with all that to be, by orders, reduced to im 
mobility it must be confessed that for French 
sailors whose hearts were in the right place this 
was a cruel mischance. 

The commander of the Cassini could do noth 
ing, for so long as he was in the waters of Macao 
all his movements depended on the commander of 
the station, his superior officer. Had this last full 
liberty of action, and did his instructions leave 
him with hands untied ? We are unable to say. 
Let us in passing note only this one thing : Too 
often our brave sailors, after having hastened to 
take an energetic part dictated by honor and duty, 
have been poorly rewarded for their zeal, and the 
government has not always spared them the most 
painful disavowals. What is there astonishing in 
their declining, when the opportunity offers, a re 
sponsibility always burdensome, and which is not 
without danger ? And then another cause of 
weakness our perpetual revolutions, or sudden 
changes of governments and ministries, is the 
thing of all others the best adapted to disconcert 
those who have the honor of representing France, 
and managing her interests art some thousands ol 
leagues distance from Paris. Only just now, as 
we have seen, Alexis Clerc was greatly embarrassed 
in presence of the Sultan of Acheen, who showed 



248 Alexis Clert. 

him a treaty of alliance bearing the signature of 
King Louis Philippe, and he was careful not to in 
form that Asiatic monarch that Louis Philippe, 
discharged as people discharge a servant, had died 
in exile, leaving behind him the republic. Ah ! 
well, from small to great, it is always the same 
thing every time we gratify our taste for revolu 
tions, and the Cassini experienced it once more 
during her long anchorage at Macao ; for the re 
public of 1848, vanquished in its turn, gave place 
to the empire prepared by the coup d etat of De 
cember 2. To men who had received their mission 
from a ministry that was serious and honest after 
all, and to which the noble Admiral Eomain Des- 
fosses belonged, the news of what had taken place 
in Paris had in it nothing encouraging, and the 
first impression it produced must have been most 
painful. Here is one example among many others : 
In Canton and Shanghai great hopes had been 
founded upon" the action of an experienced diplo 
mat, Mr. de Bourboulon, who was charged with 
exacting the observance of the treaties agreed upon 
between France and China, and very probably 
with obtaining something more. But at the an 
nouncement of the coup d etat this high function 
ary expressed himself in such terms that every 
body considered his recall as certain. Fortunate 
ly, when the situation was made clear, matters all 
turned out for the best ; Mr. de Bourboulon re 
mained at his post, and received with the title of 
minister plenipotentiary new powers which he un 
derstood making an excellent use of. But French 



From Lor ient to Shanghai. 249 

diplomacy had not the less been completely 
paralyzed for a time. 

Alexis first letter after the news of the coup 
d etat bears the date of February 2, 1852. This is 
what he says on the subject : 

" We heard of the coup d etat of the president of 
the republic only through the foreign journals, 
which seemed to us very poorly informed, probably 
on account of the suppression of the Parisian jour 
nals. No letter or paper has reached us. All our 
packages await us at our central station, Macao, 
and we shall go for them immediately. 

" I would not have liked to belong to the army 
of Paris during that audacious usurpation. As to 
the universal suffrage which follows to absolve such 
pretensions, I have not waited until now to decide 
that it is a miserable criterion of right ; neverthe 
less, we must undoubtedly stand by it if the great 
majority of voters take part in it. In the chaos 
and anarchy in which we are tossed about, this 
suffrage seems to me, in so far as it does not attack 
the divine law, the single point, not of right but 
of fact, which can indicate wherein resides the go 
vernment of France. But all this, like the govern 
ment of February, whence the republic issued, is, in 
my opinion, of the nature of governments of expedi 
ency which we should obey for what they are worth 
I mean so long as there is nothing better; yet, withal, 
I do not acknowledge to myself the right of dis 
obedience or the duty of quitting the service un 
less their acts force one to it. I should therefore 
remain in the service, even if I were in France 



250 Alexis Clerc. 

where my resignation would be possible, instead of 
being here where it is not. But I shall not take 
any oath of fidelity to this new personage. 

" Jules habit of spending the month of Decem 
ber in Germany allows me to hope until I hear 
that you are both safe and sound, 

"I do not give much credit to the accounts we 
get, and they are too brief for us to judge much 
from them ; but, from what they say, I am quite 
puzzled to know with what men the president will 
govern. 

" It is my idea that this prince will be the heir of 
the policy of his uncle, and that then destinies 
will be very similar ; the first was the reaction 
against the Jacobins, this one is selected to combat 
the socialists. There is still a fine role for him to 
play. 1 have not the confidence that he possesses 
either the will or the force to fill it. 57 This was 
looking far ahead and seeing surely. U ni or tunately 
such clairvoyance was not common. France, thirst 
ing for authority, did not limit her confidence in a 
prince whose past was anything but reassuring ; 
a theorist as bold as he was deep, always ready to 
recommence his life of adventure by risking, now 
not only his liberty or his head, but the fortune, 
even the existence, of the country that had taken 
him for its ruler, and hailed him as a providential 
man ! 

A letter of March 2T contains the following 
lines ; 

" MY DEAR FATHER : We are going to Macao 
to take advantage of the departure of the express. 



From Lor lent to Shanghai. 251 

My last letter is from Batavia. While there we re 
ceived news from Europe up to December 26, and 
heard about the kind of consent which universal 
suffrage has given as a sanction to the coup d etat 
of the president. The foreigners we have since 
met all have the air of believing that it is an im 
provement in our condition. For us there will 
be, even if we derive profit from it, a sort of 
shame in being fallen so low that it did not need a 
Caesar of nobler alloy to conquer us. 

And a letter of April 13 : " You speak sorrow 
fully of the presidential proscriptions. Without 
much pitying the pretended victims, I deplore that 
severity dictated by the seven million five hundred 
thousand votes. But I am disgusted with the kind 
of spurring on certain newspapers give it. There 
is no longer necessity of exciting the governing 
power to rigor ; it is sufficiently armed not to need 
the feeble support of the voice of a journalist. 

A reflection slipped into the following letter is 
not without value, at least as an argument ad 
hominem : "I see by your letters that you deeply 
regret the republican government. While reserv 
ing my personal opinion, which is of no weight in 
the matter, it seems to me that the basis of repub 
licanism is universal suffrage, and that the most 
intense republicans are the ones who, after the re 
peated votes of December and the elections to the 
Legislative Assembly, should most thoroughly re 
gard the new government as legitimate." 

When he wrote these lines Clerc had just return 
ed from a voyage to Manilla, enchanted with all he 



252 Alexis Clerc. 

had seen, and in particular with a colonial govern 
ment which was not the less civilizing for being not 
in the least republican. 

" It is, I think, the model of all colonies estab 
lished or to be established. The Spaniards have 
infused into the Tagals their dominant qualities, 
attachment to the faith and the military spirit. 
If we did not see the rather dark color of their 
skin, we might, from the manoeuvres of the troops 
and their firm tread, suppose we were looking at 
European soldiers. Their bravery has been often 
tested, and has never failed when they have been 
under the command of Spanish officers. By a co 
incidence which may appear singular, the Spaniards 
have found Mussulmans for their enemies here, and 
they fight against the Moros just as they did in 
their own country under the famous Isabella." 
The Moros in question are only the Malays of the 
Soloo (or Solo, as the Spaniards call them) Islands, 
brigands of the sea, who practise piracy along all 
the coasts and carry whole populations into cap 
tivity. In the last expedition of the Philippines 
against these corsairs the regular troops were 
joined by volunteers recruited, instructed, drilled, 
headed, and commanded by their parish priest, 
Father Hanez, of the Augustinians. "They 
manned a fleet," Clerc relates, "which at San 
Jose was united with that of General Urbiztondo. 
I can easily imagine the joy this reunion must have 
produced, and the confidence the general must 
have felt in the execution of a project in which the 
people so heartily co-operated. This little cru- 



From Lorient to Shanghai. 253 

sade, thanks to the simplicity of the crusaders 
who had no suspicion of the beautiful title I give 
them and which they deserve and to the watch 
ful care of their pastor, offered a model of a Chris 
tian army. They performed all their religious 
duties as though they were at home. When the 
day of [action came, Father Hanez, who always 
commanded them, led them to the assault to 
gether with Mr. Gamier (a French officer of rare 
merit) ; he received a mortal wound, and expired 
shortly afterwards." 

At last, after long waiting, Clerc is to be re 
lieved of the burden of his uselessness. The 
Cassini is to go to Shanghai in company with the 
Capricieuse, a sailing corvette, to which she will 
serve as a tow-boat. On board the Capricieuse, 
commanded by Mr. de Rocquemaurel, the com 
mander of the station, is installed the French le 
gation, composed of the minister, his wife, his 
secretary, and an interpreter. As to the Cassini, 
she carries the procurator of the Lazarists and ten 
Sisters of Charity, a pious colony to be landed at 
Ning-po. Thus the horizon is brightened and a 
quiet joy reigns on board ; we notice the reflec 
tion of it in the following letter : " This voyage 
has, on account of the charm of the amiable vir 
tues of our passengers, been the most agreeable we 
have made. That perfume of holiness which the 
religious communities so carefully preserve, and 
which the world knows nothing of, was offered to 
us, and nothing is so sweet and touching as that 
entire and simple devotedness of the Daughters of 



254 Alexis Clerc. 

Charity. That absence of all little feminine diplo 
macy, that desire to be employed for the sake of 
rendering service and not for the sake of appearing 
useful, that gayety so gentle and so uniform these 
are the qualities which made their society a plea 
sure for each of us. As for their deep piety, their 
enlightened devotion, it does not belong to me to 
praise it; it is, however, the secret of all their 
other qualities, the source whence flow those lim 
pid waters, and, more exactly, the tap-root which 
nourishes those fertile branches." 

Clerc himself satisfies here " that desire of being 
employed for the sake of rendering service and not 
for the sake of appearing useful," which he ad 
mired in the Daughters of Charity. He does not 
tell us, and for a good reason, how their landing 
was effected. But the commander of the Cassini, 
who has not the same reason for keeping silence, 
gives us a detailed account : " Alexis Clerc ren 
dered immense services to the commander of the 
Cassini throughout the cruise. I will only men 
tion some of the most striking. In June, 1852, 
the Cassini received on board the Eev. Father 
Guillet, Lazarist and superior of the Sisters of 
Charity, as well as ten sisters destined for Mng-po. 
The vessel had no accommodations for so many 
lady passengers, but, thanks to the simplicity of the 
good sisters and to the very proper courtesy of the 
officers, everything passed off as well as possible, 
and the Cassini was able to discharge her precious 
freight at Ning-po. It was not easy to land Euro 
pean women in a large and thickly-populated 



From Lorient to Shanghai. 255 

city.* A sort of uprising might even be feared 
when the authorities and the population should 
learn that these women were religious. It was 
therefore decided that they should be taken on 
shore at night in an unfrequented neighborhood, 
where sedan-chairs could immediately conceal them 
from the gaze of the curious. Alexis Clerc under 
took the operation, and was seconded by Mr. Joy- 
ant de Couesnongle, his friend, the administrative 
officer. It was a perfect success. The rainy 
weather was even a favorable circumstance, and 
towards ten o clock in the evening the sisters were 
installed in the house prepared for them." 

After a rough passage the Cassini reaches 
Shanghai. Alexis announces this good news to 
his father : " We arrived on the 28th (of June) at 
Shanghai, the furthest north of the ports open to 
Europeans, and the one through which China will 
probably be the most encroached upon by Europe. 
The commercial importance of this place, already 
"very great, is on an increase the ultimate limit 
of which it is impossible to foresee. The city of 
Shanghai is of the second class ; it is situated 
on the Wam-pou, a branch of the Yang-tse-kiang. 
The surrounding country is perfectly flat, and the 
land is formed of the alluvia of the river. Erom 
the top of a pagoda nine stories in height and 
about six miles distant from Shanghai, some em 
bankments that serve as a promenade for the Eng 
lish are to be seen. These vast plains are fur- 

* The population of Ning-po, or rather Ning-po-fou (for it is 
a first-class city), numbers five hundred thousand souls. 



256 Alexis Clerc. 

rowed with an infinite number of canals. The 
canals are the railroads of China ; in Europe we 
have no idea of the profusion with which they are 
scattered about ; they are of great use as means of 
irrigation. The fields are well cultivated, and there 
is no waste land excepting what is occupied by the 
tombs." 

This is all ; of the Jesuit mission not a word. 
Alexis has his reasons, doubtless, for not leading his 
father prematurely upon that dangerous ground ; 
for already he must have a presentiment that his 
sojourn in that mission, the happy and blessed term 
of so long a voyage, will not be without result for 
the great affair of his vocation. 



CHAPTER VIII. 

A CONVERSION ON BOARD THE " CASSINI." 



her long cruise in the China seas the 
Cassini, always having her central station at Ma 
cao, was destined to anchor three times in the har 
bor of Shanghai: in June, 1852, in March, 1853, 
and, finally, a last time in the month of Septem 
ber of the same year. It was on these several oc 
casions that she had it in her power to offer effec 
tual protection to the European establishments, 
and especially to the French mission, which was 
between the fire of the two armies. The inter 
esting episode that will form the subject of the 
present chapter belongs to the second of these 
voyages to Shanghai. 

Clerc, with his attractive qualities and his burn 
ing zeal, was everywhere a great converter ; we 
know already that he proved himself such at Lo- 
rient and Brest, as well as at Indret. But on 
board the Cassini, in a select assembly of officers 
and cadets, the opportunity of doing good to souls 
was, so to speak, daily and continual ; to seize 
it on the wing without making himself an annoy 
ance, to await the moment of grace for months 
and even years (in doing which he was favored by 
the length of the expedition) such was the line 

257 



258 Alexis Clerc. 

of conduct he followed, not without success. I 
find a first evidence of this in the letter sent to 
me from the Chartreuse of Reposoir, from which 
I have already quoted. Attached to the expedi 
tion as a passed midshipman, young Mr. de G- , 

who had received a finished education, was not very 
far from the kingdom of God, and though he had 
for some time neglected the practice of his reli 
gion, even though his faith was darkened, he was 
fortunately neither an infidel nor a sceptic. But, 
like the paralytic of the Gospel, incapable of rous 
ing himself from a fatal torpor, he awaited a 
man a man who would reach out his hand to 
plunge him in the pool. Clerc was that providen 
tial man, and Mr. de G , now a Carthusian, 

feels towards him an eternal gratitude. 

" I must," he writes us, "relate here a circum 
stance which gratitude will never allow me to for 
get, and explain to you how Providence made use 
of Mr. Clerc to bring me back to the path of sal 
vation. For about three years I had not ap 
proached the sacraments, notwithstanding the 
good examples I had before me. I had even eluded 
several attempts made by a missionary father to 
speak to me on the subject. Mr. Clerc, under 
standing how dangerous my position was at that 
age when men too often forsake the good to 
blindly follow evil, and knowing besides that my 
education had been most Christian, one day 
frankly accosted me and in a few words broached 
the subject. He had been walking the deck with 
me for a little while, when he said, with the smile 



A Conversion on board the " Cassini" 259 

that enlivened his most serious conversations : 
Now, tell me how it happens that you no longer 
practise your religion ? With the education you 
have received and the faith you certainly possess, 
I cannot really see what restrains you. As I ob 
served to him that I had doubts (a consequence, 
probably, of all that rubbish of bad reading which 
people of the world indulge, in without scruple and 
without remorse), he asked quickly : Is it honest 
ly that? Yes, I replied. If that is all, he 
returned, why did you not tell me before ? I will 
give you something to enlighten you. And he did 
give me the * Etudes Philosophiques of Auguste 
Nicolas, which I read attentively. As soon as I 
came to the advice to pray, I prayed, and the veil 
fell. How much of that grace I certainly owe to 
the prayers of Mr. 01 ere ! May God give him his 
reward ! Some days later I returned to the good 
path, which after fifteen years led me to the shel 
ter of the cloister." 

This is very simple, is it not ? But it is a great 
thing in the order of salvation. All of us who 
have faith, and who imagine that we love our 
neighbor as ourselves, how many similar occasions 
do we not permit to escape us through want of 
watching for the moments of grace, but especially 
through want of appreciating the value of a soul ! 

All Olerc s conversions were not so easy, even 
among those midshipmen of whom the greater 
number, though not all, had been reared by Chris 
tian parents and masters. With such and such 
ones a first overture was a very hazardous thing. 



26o Alexis Clerc. 

and, the ice once broken, care had to be taken not 
to press the reluctant soul too closely or bring 
about a hand-to-hand struggle. Too frequently 
the zeal of the priest, of the missionary, failed 
completely. In his capacity of officer Clerc had a 
readier access to the midshipmen, and his regular 
duties offered him precious opportunities. And 
herein is one of the great secrets of the apostolate ; 
nothing makes us understand it better than the 
example, at once so sweet and so powerful, of our 
Lord announcing the kingdom of G-od in the cities 
and towns of Judea. See him at the well of Jacob 
manifesting himself to the Samaritan woman, and 
kindling in the heart of a poor sinner the thirst 
for that living water that springeth up into life 
everlasting. As he journeyed from place to place, 
how many times did he not in the same way gather 
up and bring back to the fold the wandering sheep 
of the house of Israel ! 

It was, then, on 1fhe deck of the vessel where 
Clerc was on watch with another midshipman 
this one a person who had gone far astray that 
the serious conversation took place at the con 
clusion of which the young man admitted himself 
conquered and laid down his arms. Let us leave 
him to relate in all sincerity his own history, from 
the period of his fatal obduracy to the hour, for 
ever blessed, when the grace against which he was 
struggling triumphed over his long resistance. 

THE MIDSHIPMAN S STORY. 
" I was not so fortunate as to be brought up to 



A Conversion on board the " Cassini" 261 

respect the holy Catholic religion ; still, I gained 
at college the first notions of it, and it was with a 
fervor which was more lively and sincere than dura* 
ble that at the age of twelve and a half I received 
Holy Communion for the first time. That first 
time was to he the last, at least for a long while. 

" By the Easter which followed my first Com 
munion I was already deeply infected with human 
respect, and if I approached the holy tahle once 
during that paschal season, it was at the invitation 
of the sisters of the infirmary where at the moment 
I happened to be confined, and doubtless the God 
of love no longer found in my heart anything but 
a pitiful little flame already too nearly burned out 
to be brightened by his presence. 

" From that day the shadows grew thicker and 
thicker about my soul, and from at first blushing 
for a moment of simple, unaffected piety I soon 
came to take a miserable pride in proclaiming my 
impiety by my acts as well as by my words. 

"I passed from the college to a preparatory 
school, then to the naval academy. Finally, at 
nineteen, I joined the sea as a midshipman. G-od, 
whose mercy and wisdom are unfathomable, had 
doubtless in some sort prepared my salvation be 
fore I had begun to throw myself away ; for, from 
the age of seven years, I had, without any apparent 
reason, declared my intention of being a sailor. 

" At the naval academy I had dreamed about 
making my first voyage to the coasts of China, and 
it was at my request and to satisfy this desire that 
I, an open contemner of holy things, was appointed 



262 Alexis Clerc. 

to the Cassini, commanded by Mr. de Plas, and 
numbering among its officers Mr. Clerc, the lieu 
tenant commander, and among its middies my 

companions of the naval school, de G , now a 

Carthusian. I was still a furious wolf, and yet the 
Lord let me into his fold. 

" Besides de G , two or three of our mutual 

companions were, if not like him, firmly grounded 
in the faith, at least regular observers of the essen 
tial duties of religion. This was to me a reason 
for proclaiming my impiety louder and more 
boastingly still. Nothing but cynical jests, ob- 
Bcene speeches, horrible blasphemies issued con 
stantly from my lips. 

"Our vessel was carrying to the island of La 
Eeunion Mgr. Desprez, the newly-appointed bishop 
of that island, with several priests and religious ; 
we also had on board bound for China Mgr. Ve- 
rolles, Bishop of Mantchooria, as well as several 
priests of the Foreign Missions. 

" The presence of these persons consecrated to 
God irritated my anti-religious humor. 

"We were at sea on the feast of Easter. Alone 
of all the ship s company I abstained from being 
present at the Mass, which was celebrated with 
great solemnity, and I was very proud to see my 
self the only one among so many wholly exempt 
from foolish prejudices and courageously indepen- 



"There remained in my heart only a certain 
sympathy for the sisters, probably merely because 
they were women, and Almighty God was under 



A Conversion on board the u Cassini" 263 

no obligation to allow me credit for a sentiment of 
which he was not the object. Nevertheless, it 
seems as though divine mercy gave itself that pre 
text for doing gentle violence to my rebellious soul. 

" When we were in the China Sea we had on board 
for several days some Sisters of St. Vincent de 
Paul, who had left Macao to establish themselves 
at ISTing-po. One day, having had occasion to land 
at the same time with them on one of the islands 
of the coast, I gathered some flowers to offer them. 
I have since been told that those good and holy 
women began from that hour to pray for me par 
ticularly. 

"It was two years since our departure from 
France when we had some reason for spending a 
certain time in the waters of Canton. Comman 
der de Plas, who had had a chapel fitted up on 
board and never allowed it to lack a chaplain, se 
cured the services of the Abbe Girard, a priest be 
longing to the Foreign Missions, who has since 
died in Japan, and who was, at the time of which I 
write, living in a floating house on the river. 

" Abbe G-irard, whose heart was devoured with 
zeal for the salvation of souls, felt drawn towards 
me, and, as I have since learned, expressed to Mr. 
Clerc the sentiment with which I inspired him, 
and the desire he conceived of attempting my con 
version. Poor Mr. Clerc, who for two years had 
had leisure to become acquainted with my disposi 
tions, did not, it seems, conceal the fact that he 
saw no chance of success. Nevertheless, the Abb6 
Girard, whom Almighty God had chosen as his 



264 Alexis Clerc. 

first messenger of mercy to me, was not discouraged; 
one day he drew me into the cabin which the com 
mander had placed at his disposal, and under pre 
text of discovering if a certain stenography which 
he knew I used was the same he had formerly 
taught, he asked me to translate aloud to him a 
short letter which he had written me. It was, 
as you may guess, a letter of wise advice and seri 
ous warning ; it announced to me in the name of 
Divine Goodness that grace was at that moment 
visiting me and offering itself to me, but that, re 
pulsed, it might never return. This announce 
ment, which had been made me many times be 
fore and had not shaken my impiety, did not pro 
duce much more impression on me then ; still, I 
remember that I experienced something like a mo 
ment of hesitation, something like a slight in 
terior uneasiness, a passing trouble which I had 
already occasionally felt when my lips were casting 
up to God one of those terrible expressions of de 
fiance, the mere memory of which causes me to 
tremble even now. 

" I only noticed several years later a circumstance 
which seems to indicate how the merciful provi 
dence of God fixes beforehand the hours when it 
will make a supreme effort to become master of 
our hearts; the day on which this took place, and 
which the missionary had inscribed as the date at 
the top of his letter, was precisely the one on which 
I completed my twenty-first year. 

" Our conversation was not prolonged ; I wanted 
to escape from the pernicious influence which J 



A Conversion on board the " Cassini" 265 

thought I had experienced for a moment, and 
shortly afterwards I read, with an indulgence in 
some horse-laughter, the good priest s charitable let 
ter to my assembled comrades. 

" We left the latitude of Canton, and thus were 
separated from him whom Almighty God had, as 
it were, made the confidant of his tender desires 
regarding me. Abbe Girard had, it seems, charged 
Mr. Clerc to continue the reconstruction of faith in 
my soul a work the first stone of which, against 
all appearances, he did not despair of haying laid. 

" I sometimes found myself on watch with Mr. 
Clerc and under his orders, and one evening when 
we were at anchor, and there was no duty to claim 
either his or my attention, he managed to lead the 
conversation to religious questions, and soon to 
wrest from me an acknowledgment of the painful 
void which I had often felt in my soul ever since 
I had allowed the faith of my first Communion to 
become extinguished. In fact, it had happened to 
me at the naval school when I was listening to the 
astronomical lectures that were given us, to look 
with disdain upon my existence, so petty in com 
parison with the immensity of the universe, and to 
be seized with a profound distaste for life, no longer 
having a knowledge of my soul and its eternal des 
tinies, and feeling condemned to painfully prepare 
a future which, if it were not cut short by death, 
would perhaps have no greater duration than the 
present employed in assuring it. Even at times 
the idea of suicide crossed my brain of eighteen 
years, the age of joyous unconcern. 



266 Alexis Clerc. 

"Later, on shipboard, in the calm of the beau 
tiful tropical nights, in the midst of immensity, I 
tried to fathom the unfathomable depths of the 
starry heavens, and to divine beyond that vast but 
finite expanse of matter the Infinite whom my soul 
had lost. It was a sentiment I did not reason 
about ; I did not know what I sought, but I felt 
that I lacked something, or rather that I lacked 
everything ; I had a career of my choice and to 
my taste ; I enjoyed, in spite of my impiety, the 
esteem of my superior officers and the good- will 
of my comrades ; I had at home a family that 
awaited my return to lavish affection upon mo 
more than ever before yet, at those moments 
when, all being silent around my conscience, ifc 
could hear its almost extinct voice, I felt a void 
within me. 

"From the day I made the acknowledgment of 
that instinctive want which I had sometimes felt, 
but had quickly tried to deceive instead of en 
deavoring to satisfy, my soul began to change, 
to be converted, to use the beautiful and appropri 
ate expression which is applied to that moral phe 
nomenon. 

" Henceforth I had an end befo-re me, and I 
started on my journey to reach it with a step that 
doubtless was very uncertain, tottering, and irreso 
lute, but allowing myself to be urged forward by 
the energetic charity of our holy friend, who, as 
soon as he had seen the possibility of snatching 
me from the devil, had conceived an ardent, super 
natural affection for me. 



A Conversion on board the " Cassim." 267 

"I had to tell him that I did not believe in God ; 
and in reality it was belief in God, the sentiment 
of his existence, that my soul had sometimes 
sought to draw from the abyss of the firmament. 
Following Mr. Clerc s advice, I commenced to say 
every night before going to sleep this singular 
prayer : My God, if thou dost exist, as is declared 
to me, deign, I beseech thee, to inspire me with 
the sentiment of thy existence. 

"Who can measure the extent of God s mer 
cies ? That prayer which resembled a blasphemy 
was my only co-operation in the work to which our 
venerated friend from that time forward conse 
crated his zeal, and the Lord waited for no more 
from me. That light which my soul had instinc 
tively sought while denying it, began to penetrate 
the recesses of my heart. The thick darkness 
which for a number of years had obscured my 
vision, began to fade away before the aurora of 
grace ; I felt that I was seized and carried along 
by a divine current to which I had only to abandon 
myself, and which transported me through new 
regions. The night wherein I had so long lived 
fled away, and the day steadily brightened before 
me. I approached objects which, seen from afar 
off and through the shadows of impiety, had ex 
cited my aversion, and they grew beautiful to my 
eyes. My affectionate pilot said to me: Soon 
you will see new horizons opening before you ; 
and in reality I experienced in the supernatural 
order what I had felt in the inferior order when, 
for the first time, I sailed towards the open sea, 



268 Alexis Clerc. 

towards the blue and limpid waters of the immense 
and sparkling ocean. Henceforth my soul is cap 
tivated ; it no longer dreams of resisting; it lets it 
self be gently borne by the ineffable grace of that 
God who, forgetting in an instant all the outrages 
he has received from his creature, seems to be grate 
ful because it is willing to yield to him its love. 

"Nothing of the work that was being carried on 
in the depths of my soul appeared exteriorly ; my 
comrades thought me still the hardened rebel they 
had heard turning the tender and serious warnings 
of the pious missionary into ridicule. 

"One evening I happened to be on deck when 
prayers were begun according to the maritime re 
gulation ; for two years I had never once been pre 
sent at this exercise, and, if at the moment I found 
myself among the ship s company, I always has 
tened to withdraw, so as not to be obliged to un 
cover. This evening I felt urged to make a first 
act of faith, and before human respect, so long my 
master, had had time to remind me of its ancient 
rights, my cap was off my head. My comrades 
(those who imitated my irreligion) had gone, sup 
posing that I was following them. When I re 
joined them after prayers were over, a profound 
astonishment was still depicted on their counte 
nances, but they had the delicacy not to allude to 
what had passed. As for me, I was not quite at 
my ease, but the step was taken ; I was like a man 
who did not have courage enough to jump in the 
water himself, but whom another has pushed in ; I 
was in, and it cost me no more to stay. 



A Conversion on board the " Cassini" 269 

" From that day faith made rapid progress with 
in my soul ; the gratuitous mercy of God and the 
burning zeal of the future martyr alone acted. I 
repeat it again, I was as though gently borne along 
by a current that required no efforts on my part. 

" I had preserved almost no notion of the reli 
gion that had illumined my childhood for so short 
a time. For example, I no longer knew the mean 
ing of the Trinity ; I thought the Blessed Virgin 
belonged to it ; my ignorance was that of a pagan. 
One day, however, I felt impelled to make the sign 
of the cross. The Lord seemed to ask me for these 
feeble marks of my good-will, and to await them 
in order to lavish his graces upon me with new pro 
fusion. 

" Soon after this Mr. Clerc offered me a medal 
of the Blessed Virgin ; I accepted it, and sus 
pended it round my neck. Human respect, con 
quered a first time by surprise, now found itself in 
my heart in presence of what was for it a formid 
able enemy : this was a disposition I have always 
had to push without discretion the application of 
my ideas or of my fancies to the extremest point. 
This disposition, which has caused me to commit 
many faults, was in this case, through divine 
mercy, a powerful help to my soul. 

" Two or three months before 1 had made the 
cabin which my comrades and I occupied resound 
with my shameless blasphemies and now they saw 
me, at the hour of the morning ablutions, uncover 
my breast where the precious medal shone. 

"Almighty God had armed, one against the 



270 Alexis Clerc. 

other, two caprices of my nature, and rendered 
vigorous the one which was, for the time being, to 
assure my salvation. 

" I often think, and not without being moved, 
of how my comrades treated me then. Some of 
them, on account of their religious faith, had been 
the objects of my sarcasm, which they never re 
proached me for; others, on the contrary, had 
heard me far surpass the impiety of their language, 
and even when, too soon forgetful of my own past, 
I became severe towards their incredulity, they 
never taunted me with my previous irreligion. In 
the sequel, one of the latter frequently offered to 
replace me when my duties would have prevented 
me from attending Mass on Sundays. 

" I was thus sailing on a calm and tranquil sea 
when one day a terrible tempest arose in my soul. 
I was again on watch with Mr. Clerc. Eight 
o clock had struck, night had set in, and we were 
to remain on deck until midnight. The ship was 
resting on her anchors : the sailors were stretched 
on the planks asleep ; it seemed as though there 
were only three of us between the heavens and the 
waters Almighty God, his faithful interpreter, 
and myself. This evening Mr. Clerc began to talk 
to me about confession. I trembled at the word, 
and suddenly that luminous ocean, in whose midst 
my soul had been delighting for some months, 
seemed to grow dark. I saw my old prejudices, 
which I had believed to be vanished because I had 
ceased to feel them, coming back to me from all 
sides. I was, as it were, surrounded with a circle 



A Conversion on board the (< Cassini^ 271 

of black phantoms that sought to stifle my new- 
faith, and my old aversions seemed to live again in 
my heart and drown the supplicating voice of my 
earnest friend. Three hours passed, he speaking 
without pause, drawing from the depths of his 
piety and tenderness ever-fresh arguments to tri 
umph over the repugnances which my silent man 
ner allowed him to easily conjecture. He told me 
afterwards that he then felt that the solemn hour 
had sounded for me, and that, being without trou 
ble of my own arrived at the gates of the celestial 
city, I would, if I did not enter them by an ener 
getic effort, see them close before me for ever. In 
reality God owed me nothing. I had done nothing 
for him ; on the contrary, I owed him an account 
of the graces he had lavished upon me, and which 
had brought me thus far. My sensations were 
those of a man standing at the mouth of a myste 
rious dark cavern, of unknown depth, which he 
believes to be infested with hideous reptiles, and 
which some one is trying to persuade him to enter 
alone, without light and without assistance. In an 
instant the devil, undoubtedly feeling his prey 
about to escape him, had been clever enough to 
restore life to all those silly imaginations I had 
derived from execrable romances. Prostrate be 
neath the burden of a sort of invincible terror, my 
panting soul from time to time made an effort to 
rise ; then it fell back upon itself, deprived of both 
strength and courage. I know not how to express 
the agony I suffered during those three hours. I 
was mute, and my poor friend, worn out, felt his 



272 . Alexis Clerc. 

heart painfully wrung by the thought that it was 
finished with me. , . Suddenly, moved by one of 
those supreme graces which doubtless cost our Sa 
viour the most bitter pangs and the most profound 
ignominies, I straightened myself up and said to 
Mr. Clerc: I will confess to-morrow. I know not 
which preponderated in his heart, surprise or joy. 
I had not succeeded in driving off the phantoms 
that beset me, but I had repeated interiorly, and, 
as it were, stammeringly, the words the Spirit of 
God dictated to my soul : My God, I cannot de 
liver myself from these aversions, but in gratitude 
for what thou hast done for me I will make this 
effort that is asked of me. I have often in thought 
recalled that solemn moment of my life, and it has 
never been without deep emotion. 

* The next day I entered with Father Languil- 
lat,* whom I had selected at the suggestion of Mr. 
Clerc, the chapel on board, and opened my soul 
that had been shut up for nine years. Ah ! God 
be thanked a thousand times for loving miserable 
sinners so much ! 

" Father Languillat made me promise to read 
that part of Mr. Nicolas Etudes which treats of 
the Eucharist ; and, in fact, I opened the book, 
but soon closed it again. God s grace outran the 
text, and it seemed to me that those pages, learned 
as they were, could teach me nothing more. My 
heart, readier than my mind, had in a few mo 
ments plentifully drunk of the waters of divine 

* Now Bishop of Sergiopolis and Administrator of the Dio 
cese of Nankin. 



A Conversion on board the " Cassini" 273 

knowledge. I asked to approach Holy Commu 
nion, and I definitely re-entered the Christian life. 

" Twenty years have passed since that day, and, 
in an incessant warfare between God s grace and 
my miserable nature, the latter has, to my shame, 
too often been victorious ; but the God of infinite 
patience and generosity has never permitted that 
the faith restored to my soul should be shaken. I 
returned to the Christian life almost without study. 
For a long time afterwards I had not the leisure to 
study attentively that admirable science, of which 
I had learned scarcely the first elements in my 
childhood, and which in my youth became per 
fectly strange to me. Notwithstanding this, the 
revolts of my nature never had the power to pro 
duce the slightest trouble in my renewed faith. 
For twenty years I have been ruled by faith en 
veloped, penetrated with faith and I cannot help 
being frightened at the terrible responsibility I have 
incurred by not having made fruitful within me so 
lively a faith, the pure gift of God. 

" During the fifteen months that followed this 
most important event of my life that is, until the 
Cassini returned to France Mr. Clerc and I lived 
the intimate life of shipboard. Daily he edified 
me by his piety, his humility, his so courteous 
charity for all. How many times we prayed to 
gether, now in the modest chapel on deck or in 
his cabin, now leaning over the ship s rail, letting 
the invocations of the Eosary fall bead by bead 
upon the murmuring waves the vessel scattered as 
she pursued her course, each one of which, as it 



274 Alexis Clerc. 

disappeared iu the darkness, seemed to mingle its 
melodious ripple with the sound of our voices ! 
How many times we together received the hospi 
tality of your pious and valiant brethren at Zika- 
wei,* at Tsamkaleu, at Shanghai ! sweet and 
imperishable memories, which I cannot recall to 
him save by looking towards heaven I " 

Our readers will not be displeased with us for 
having reproduced in its eloquent simplicity the 
recital of this fervent convert, who from that day 
of grace was Clerc s friend in life and death ; who 
twenty years later witnessed his solemn profession, 
made on the morning of the 19th of March, 1871, 
just in the sinister dawn of the Commune ; and 
who a few days afterwards again received a pre 
cious token of this holy friendship a letter, the 
last, written behind the bolts of Mazas. 

* College of the Jesuit Fathers, near Shanghai. 



CHAPTER IX. 

SHANGHAI AND THE JESUIT MISSION. 

WHEN Olerc arrived at Shanghai for the second 
time, in the course of the month of March, 1853, 
the first thing that struck him was the continued 
progress of the insurrection, whose wave already 
covered a considerable portion of the province of 
Nankin and washed towards the coasts a veritable 
army of thieves, the refuse of all the neighboring 
provinces, that closely threatened the mission of 
the Jesuit Fathers and the establishments of Eu 
ropean commerce situated on the banks of the 
Wampou outside the fortified enclosure of the 
Chinese city. "We are," he wrote, "on the eve 
of most important events. The famous rebels who, 
since 1832, have been steadily gaining ground in 
the Celestial Empire, in these latter days, after 
occupying the provinces of Honan and Houpe, have 
taken possession of a very large city, the capital 
of the province, called Hantcheou, I think.* On 
our arrival at Ning-po it was said that they were 
besieging Nankin ; here, at Shanghai, that Nan 
kin was taken ; then, that neither of the reports 
was true, and that the rebels were advancing 
towards the north. There is very little positive 

* Perhaps Hingtcheou, a fortified town in Honan. 

275 



276 Alexis Clerc. 

information, and the highest Chinese authorities 
know no more about the matter than we do. 
What is certain, and what I know for myself, is 
that the tao-tai, or governors, of Ning-po and 
Shanghai are in great uneasiness; these immense 
cities are absolutely drained of soldiers. In Ning- 
po a band of fifty go through their drill every day ; 
in Shanghai there are twenty soldiers ; these are 
cities of perhaps 500,000 inhabitants. The winter 
is cold, commerce is almost destroyed, consequent 
ly the misery is very great and far beyond what we 
know anything about in Prance ; yet these legions 
of miserable creatures remain quiet, and up to the 
present only their mandarins live in fear of harm. 
Such a thing would be impossible in Europe, where 
some scoundrel would soon have the enterprise to 
obtain supplies for himself by an easy pillage. 

" The situation of the authorities is so critical 
that the tao-tai of Shanghai, who last year was so 
badly disposed towards us, and whose malevolence 
only stopped short of obliging us to go to Nankin, 
lias accepted as a precious favor the offer we have 
made him of a refuge for himself, his family, and his 
possessions, in case of the arrival of the rebels, or 
of what is more to be feared, a band of robbers. 

" The weakness of this vast empire is as prodi 
gious as its duration, and I believe that the in 
stinct of the ant has been somewhat divided be 
tween itself and the Chinese. But we cannot the 
less be astonished at the stupidity of this gov 
ernment, so sluggish in its own defence. Being so 
well aware of its own incapacity, why has it not 



Shanghai and the Jesuit Mission. 277 

attempted to secure some mercenary troops from 
Europe ? The three hundred mobiles who are 
on their way to establish themselves in America 
would have sufficed to fix the victory on the em 
peror s side, and to discipline and animate these 
poor soldiers. It was in reward for a similar service 
that the Portuguese were allowed to found Macao. 

" The reigning emperor is named Hien-foung. 
The leader of the rebels, who now assumes the same 
title, is Tien-te ; he was formerly, it is stated, a 
scullion in a monastery of bonzes. What is sure 
is that he is a Chinaman, and, although the Tar 
tars may be Chinesed, the revolt against a foreign 
dynasty is popular enough throughout the empire. 
The rebels, it is said, do not pillage the country ; 
there is no more to be feared from them than from 
the legitimate mandarins, and were it not that af 
ter having occupied the cities they leave them dis 
organized and without government, so that their 
own army is followed by an army of thieves, the 
people would have nothing to complain of on their 
account. The mandarin of Shanghai would like 
to obtain from our simplicity that the Cassini 
should go to Nankin to give a great moral support 
to the cause of the emperor. He has not the pow 
ers any more than our commander to arrange so 
weighty an affair as a defensive alliance with so 
compromised an emperor; therefore he will pro 
bably have his labor for his amiable pains. 

" The English and American fleets and the Cas 
sini keep near Shanghai, the north of China being 
at present the theatre of events which are probably 



278 Alexis Clerc. 

decisive and of the highest importance to English 
commerce. There are very influential English 
houses that during the last months have not been 
able to pay their employees, money is so scarce. I 
will wait till the next mail to give you other particu 
lars of these matters. This mail leaves to-morrow, 
the 20th, and I have only this evening to answer 
my letters." 

Before closing his letter Alexis adds the follow 
ing two lines : " To-morrow the dedication of the 
Catholic church of Shanghai takes place. It will 
be a great event." 

And truly, since the ruin of the ancient missions 
was completed at the close of the last century, 
never had the Catholic Church displayed so much 
pomp, nor asserted so loudly her right to at least 
appear in the open daylight on that soil which is 
always wet with the blood of martyrs. It well be 
longed to Shanghai to uplift the cross again and to 
restore to honor the altar of the living God, for 
that city is the native place of the illustrious disci 
ple of Father Ricci, Paul Siu, a man who, clothed 
with the first dignities of the empire, used his im 
mense influence and his remarkable talents only to 
protect the missionaries, and to labor himself to 
establish in his family and in his country the reign 
of Jesus Christ. At first that generous neophyte 
received the fathers in his own residence, which 
thus became the first church of Shanghai ; but 
Father Cataneo having led him to observe that the 
little and the poor would not readily frequent the 
palace of so high and powerful a personage, he 



Shanghai and the Jesuit Mission. 279 

donated for the building of a church and presby 
tery a lot of land within the enclosure of the city 
and not far from the northern gate. After the 
suppression of the Society of Jesus, which struck to 
the heart these beautiful missions, the church was 
changed into a pagoda and the presbytery became 
at once a public school and a convent of bonzesses. 
The Jesuits sent again into China by the Propa 
ganda, and returned to the diocese of Nankin, 
made it a duty to protest against that spoliation, 
and, thanks to the energetic support of Mr. de 
Lagrene, they obtained, if not a restitution, which 
was become morally impossible, at least compensa 
tions and a suitable indemnity. The buildings con 
structed for Catholic worship were not given back, 
but a quite large piece of land washed by the 
Wampou was abandoned to the fathers, and it was 
upon this ground that the cathedral of St. Francis 
Xavier was erected. Mgr. de Besi, administrator 
of the diocese of Nankin, had laid the first stone 
in 1848, and five years afterwards (for it did not 
take less for this great work) Mgr. Maresca was to 
bless it. The architect was a missionary who had 
already tried his skill by building some miles from 
Shanghai the chapel of the college of Zikawei. He 
had without servility adopted the compact propor 
tions and the general characteristics of the Doric 
order, and, conforming generously to the taste and 
traditions of the country, he had suspended all 
round the edifice a continuous fringe of truly 
Chinese ornamentation, the style of which recalled 
Gothic chapters. The cross, shooting up in the air 



280 Alexis Clerc. 

above all the buildings of the city, was seen at a 
great distance, and showed to the eyes of the infi 
dels themselves the centre of the whole mission 
and the residence of the bishop. On the front the 
Pope s arms were distinguishable among the other 
ornaments, and the delighted neophytes stopped to 
read beautiful inscriptions in Chinese characters, 
which recalled a glorious past by reproducing tex- 
tually those which the ancient missionaries had 
engraven on the great door of the church of Pekin. 
"Alexis Clerc," the commander of the Cassini, 
who betrays his own sentiments while interpreting 
those of that other himself, tells us u Alexis Clerc 
had the joy of seeing this church filled with the 
Chinese faithful, who had gathered in such great 
numbers that it was impossible for them to kneel 
during Mass. It was a touching sight that mul 
titude of Christian boats grouped on the Wampou 
near the church, and bearing either a floating 
streamer or a white flag on which was a blue cross. 
There were in these boats whole families, some of 
whom had come more than fifty leagues. Two 
boats from the Cassini, fully armed, were stationed 
in the river, to prevent, if there should be occasion, 
the tumult and disorder with which the Protestants 
and some Chinamen had threatened the fathers. 
Some non-commissioned officers, well-armed, were 
added to the commander s staff present at the cere 
mony. The worthy Mr. de Montigny, consul of 
France, who seemed to expect some disturbance, 
brought with .him a confidential servant carrying 
pistols under his garments, and he would not have 



Shanghai and the Jesuit Mission. 281 

failed to use them in case of need. But, thank 
God! there was only the disorder of enthusiasm and 
joy. Palm Sunday, for that was the day, nobly 
inaugurated the cathedral of Shanghai." 

All the time not taken up by the duties of 
his position Clerc spent with the fathers, who 
liked him and already treated him as one of 
themselves. Two steps from the city was the 
seminary of Tsainkaleu, and a few miles dis 
tant the college of Zikawei two successful at 
tempts at the education of the natives which 
had most agreeable surprises in store for him. 
When he visited those children, those youth of a 
charming candor and docility, of a fervor that re 
minded their masters of the best days of St. 
Acheul, Fribourg, and Brugelette, the greater 
number of an intelligence very ready and accessible 
to all that constitutes what we consider a liberal 
education when, I say, he saw them by turns at 
study, in the chapel, at their recreations, he shook 
off the prejudices he could not help receiving from 
the grotesque types whose rarest examples he had 
met in Macao, and conceded without difficulty that 
all the natives of the Celestial Empire were not 
fatally and invincibly the CJiinese of the folding 
screens. Those young students, rescued from infi 
delity, and destined, some to give an example of the 
domestic virtues in the midst of the corruption of 
paganism, others to become priests of Jesus Christ, 
apostles, martyrs perhaps, appeared to him worthy 
of a tender interest, and he loved them as he was 
capable of loving, with all his heart, and so as I 



282 Alexis Clerc. 

have a proof of it before me to inspire them with a 
grateful and almost filial affection. For they cer 
tainly were, if I am not mistaken, pupils of Zika- 
wei or of Tsamkaleu who together signed Francis 
Vuon and Mat/lias Sen at the end of a Latin letter 
written on red paper and accompanying some 
Chinese verses a letter which Clerc received after 
his return to France, and which he deposited in his 
private archives, where I found it. I read there, 
among other things (in the Latin, be it well 
understood), that from his first appearance in 
Shanghai Alexis has not ceased to load his young 
correspondents with benefits whose multitude and 
magnitude are such that they cannot attempt to 
express it. But they remember him in their 
prayers, they ask God to grant him all kinds of 
happiness : " a glory as high and lasting as the 
mountains, a grace renewed every day like the sun 
and moon " ; and they implore him, for his part, 
not to forget the unfortunate Chinese dragged in 
such great numbers along the paths of error and 
so hard to bring back to God. Making as large an 
allowance as we choose for rhetoric and oriental 
metaphor, those gallant young men have grateful 
memories, and Clerc has known how to speak to 
them in a language that is understood in all coun 
tries. 

One of the old laborers of the Nankin mission, 
whose shattered health has brought him nearer to 
n s and fixed him in France, tells us that he has 
preserved a delightful recollection of Lieutenant 
Clerc s stay at Shanghai and Zikawei. " In read- 



Shanghai and the Jesuit Mission. 283 

ing," he continues, " the narration of the captivity 
and death of our fathers (during the Commune), 
I said to myself, thinking especially of Father 
Clerc : Behold the worthy crowning of a life which 
I so often admired in China twenty years ago, and 
which now appears to me like a noble prelude to 
the glory of martyrdom. When the Gassini was 
anchored off Shanghai the future martyr generally 
came to take part in our religious festivals. He 
was singularly fond of finding himself domesticated 
with our fathers, and of following the regulation 
of the day with a punctuality and ease which, ex 
cept for his officer s uniform, would have caused 
him to be taken for a fervent religious. In all my 
acquaintance with the young officer I admired 
from the beginning the unequivocal marks of a 
most solid virtue and a most amiable piety, the 
both without variation or intermission. Always 
the same, always smiling from the effect of a genu 
ine and frank gayety, the young sailor showed 
already by his words and actions that virtue and 
piety were perfectly acclimated in his heart, and 
they shed over his whole life so gentle a radiance 
that one could not know him without experiencing 
a profound sentiment of love and veneration for 
his person." 

The college of Zikawei had then for superior 
Father Adrien Languillat, now Bishop of Sergio- 
polis and Administrator of the diocese of Nankin, 
a valiant missionary, who had passed through the 
prisons of Changton and looked death in the face 
more than once. Clerc was on intimate terms 



284 Alexis Clerc. 

with him and became his spiritual son. If we 
had not known this from good authority, we would 
have guessed it merely from seeing them together 
when, in 1869, Mgr. Languillat, on his way to the 
Vatican Council, spent some weeks in Paris, and 
came to the School Sainte Genevieve, where be 
found the lieutenant of the Cassini under a Jesuit s 
habit. From morning to night Clerc hung upon 
the lips of the missionary bishop, who was himself 
visibly moved by this unexpected meeting after so 
long a separation, and the cordiality of their inter 
course made us all exclaim : " See how they love 
one another ! " 

Alexis also formed a close friendship with the 
superior-general of the mission, who was then Fa 
ther Joseph Broullion, an energetic and impas 
sioned nature, but with a passion that is well 
fitting the heart of an apostle having no other 
object than the good of souls. Consumed in a 
short space by the ardor of his zeal, this active and 
courageous superior left precious memories in the 
mission which he governed only three years. In 
the course of that year, 1853, and while the Cassini 
was stationed by turns at Shanghai and Macao, 
Father Broullion, crossing the seas with Mr. de 
Montigny, Consul-General of France, came to ex 
pose in person to our superiors of Rome and Paris 
the needs of the Nankin Church, and to ask them 
for reinforcements.* 

* This voyage explains how it happens that a certain letter 
of Lieutenant Clerc s, which we shall give presently, is dated 
from Shanghai, and addressed in Europe to the superior of 
the mission of Kiang-nan. 



Shanghai and the Jesuit Mission. 285 

Before starting he made a rapid sketch of the 
mission whose interests were confided to him, 
added a great number of letters from his fellow- 
missionaries on the events that disturbed the Ce 
lestial Empire, and an earnest introduction which 
perfectly revealed his soul of an apostle, and the 
whole appeared in a volume (1855) under this 
title : " Memoir of the Present State of the Mission 
of Kiang-nan (1842-1855)." A few details bor 
rowed from this publication will furnish an exact 
idea of the spectacle Olerc had before his eyes, and 
at which he gazed not as an indifferent nor merely 
curious beholder. 

Let us, then, picture to ourselves a province 
almost as large as France, crossed from west to 
east by a mighty river the Yang-tse-kiang, which 
ships of the line have ascended as far as forty 
leagues from its mouth and watered in every di 
rection by innumerable canals. These canals, 
which are the chief means of communication, serve 
also to irrigate the rice plantations, and are all 
utilized as fisheries, a great proportion of the in 
habitants living only on rice and fish. Such is 
Kiang-nan, the capital of which is Nankin, and 
which is divided into two sub-provinces, Ngan- 
hoei in the west and Kiang-sou in the east that 
is, towards the coast ; this latter country, entirely 
level, is very frequently devastated by inundations. 
The total population of Kiang-nan is estimated at 
fifty millions of souls, and all these constitute only 
cne diocese, that of Nankin, of which the last titu 
lar was a Jesuit, Mgr. Leimbeck-Hoven, who died 



286 Alexis Clerc. 

in 1787 after the suppression of his order. Such 
is the inheritance the Jesuits came into possession 
of only in 1842 an immense field left almost with 
out cultivation, and which they had to clear up 
afresh. Of the fifty millions, as yet (1853) only 
seventy-two thousand are Christians ; but this 
little flock is scattered over an extent of territory 
out of all proportion to its number. Such a Chris 
tian settlement, Ou-ho, for instance, is more than 
five hundred kilometers from Shanghai ; hence the 
constantly-renewed fatigue of the evangelical la 
borers, whose zeal, moreover, would not permit 
them to rest, since they deem themselves, in the 
words of the apostle, the debtors of all men, both 
pagans and Christians. And then in that coun 
try such a thing as a non-practical Christian is 
unknown. All make their Easter duty, or, more 
exactly, follow the exercises of the mission when 
one is given in their district, and of course the 
missionary has to work night and day. " All the 
businessof a Christian community," Father Broul- 
lion says, "is transacted at the time of the mission. 
To hold the court of a justice of the peace, to set 
to rights families and households, to reconcile 
enemies, to urge restitutions, to correct libertines 
and opium-smokers, to promote good works, to re 
establish, to develop associations of zeal and chari- 
ity, to visit pagans, to solace the unfortunate, etc. 
such is the inevitable circle in which the activity 
of the missionary is displayed, not to count the 
unforeseen calls upon his strength and prudence, 
such as the dying to visit at a distance, and the 



Shanghai and the Jesuit Mission. 287 

assaults of the idolaters to sustain assaults which 
come too often, alas ! to overthrow Christians and 
churches, missions and missionaries. With his 
thirty yearly confessions per day the priest cannot 
attend to all the details of the Christian settlement, 
and happy is the one who has been able to associate 
with himself an intelligent catechigt, and to create 
in the heart of the parishes, by means of administra 
tors and virgins, a centre of pious industries ; with 
the aid of such instruments his influence will pene 
trate more deeply, and the fruits of the mission will 
be preserved after his departure. For the stay of 
the missionary, very short in small places, is long 
nowhere ; and, besides, a great many of the Chris 
tians are too busy to remain within his reach more 
than two or three days. These are, among others, 
the fishermen, obliged by poverty to depart as soon 
as they have finished their confession, received 
Holy Communion, and heard the instructions of 
one or two mornings. How can the priest detain 
men who without constant labor would not have 
their daily rice to eat ? " * 

In 1853 the missionaries of Kiang-nan distribut 
ed to the faithful more than eighty-three thousand 
communions, representing more than ninety-one 
thousand confessions ; they baptized five thousand 
four hundred and forty-five children of pagans, of 
whom one hundred and ninety-seven were raised in 
the orphanages of the mission, more than six hun 
dred others having been adopted by Christian fam- 

* Memoir of the Present State of the Mission of Kiang- 
nan," p. 52. 



288 Alexis Clerc. 

ilies. As to the adults converted and baptized, 
they numbered over five hundred a hard work 
that sets loose all the devils of hell ; it is Satan s 
prey that is snatched from him, and if it escapes 
him he is sure to take his revenge. But the apos 
tle of Jesus Christ hurries to meet persecution and 
death ; if he succumbs he knows that his last hour 
is the hour of victory, and that the reward pro 
mised him will have no end. 

Father Broullion concludes his " Memoir " as 
follows : 

" We can promise those who will come to share 
our labors plenty of fatigue, weariness, contradic 
tions, and, if not the palm of martyrdom, numerous 
occasions of wearing out soul and body for the 
glory of God. But they will also have the assur 
ance of hastening by their devotedness the final 
conquest of this vast empire, which has so long re 
belled against the preaching of the G-ospel." 

This language suited Clerc perfectly, and it 
seemed to him that the call of the superior of the 
mission was addressed to him personally, so great 
was his attraction for all heroic sacrifices. Be 
sides, he saw the missionaries at the work, living 
as he did in their midst, treated like one of them, 
ready, if they would consent, to share their aposto 
lic fatigues, and nothing equalled the eloquence 
of the facts of which he was the daily witness. 

In the journal of the first long retreat he made 
in Prance after his admission into the Society he 
has recorded a name, that of Massa, which signi 
fied to him evangelical poverty carried to the de- 



Shanghai and the Jesuit Mission. 289 

privation of everything and to the sacrifice of life. 
It is a souvenir brought back from Shanghai. 
And, in fact, our catalogues fix the date of Father 
Eene Massa s death as the 28th of April, 1853. 

What an admirable example is that of the Mas- 
sas ! I say the Massas, because the Father Eene 
to whom Olerc s souvenir refers is not the only 
one of the name, and in such a matter it would be 
easy to confound them. They were five brothers 
belonging to a patrician family of Naples, all five 
religious of the Society of Jesus, and all five mis 
sionaries in Kiang-nan. The Fathers Agostino, 
Gaetano, Nicolo, and Eenato, or Eene, Massa ar 
rived at the mission together in the year 1846, and 
were joined the following year by their younger 
Vother, Aloysius, then in his twentieth year, and 
jho was ordained a priest only in 1854. This is 
not all ; it needs another touch to finish the pic 
ture of this family so worthy of the most glorious 
centuries of the Church, thus completing its re 
semblance to the forever illustrious families that 
produced a St. Gregory of Nazianzen and a St. 
Basil of Caesarea. When they saw all their sons 
departed for China, Baron Massa and his noble 
wife also determined to consecrate their last years 
to God ; and perhaps at the moment I am writing 
this, in the retreat of their choice, and long since 
ripe for heaven, they are about to receive the crown 
of the patriarchs which they have won by their 
great faith. 

When Clerc arrived in Shanghai the Massas were 
already only four, Father Gaetano having been the 



290 Alexis Clerc. 

first of the brothers to be taken from the mission,, 
The inundations that devastated Kiang-nan in 
1850 were succeeded by terribte misery. While the 
famine lasted the residence of the bishop at Tom- 
ka-tou and the college of Zikawei daily received 
thousands of poor creatures, to whom rations of 
rice were distributed. Father Gaetano, who had 
been a priest for four months, was devoting him 
self with his whole heart to that good work when 
he learned that he was wanted at the children s 
hospital ; he was wet with perspiration, fasting, 
and for six hours had been tormented by fever ; no 
matter he flew to his dear sick children, cured or 
baptized several of them ; but lie took the epide 
mic and died of it in eight days. 

In 1853 it is his brother Rene s turn. Pestilence 
had followed the inundation and famine, and its 
victims strewed the roads of Ngan-hoei. Father 
Rene, the missionary of Ou-ho, built some sheds to 
receive the vagrants, and labored with indefatigable 
energy for the conversion of the pagans, enlight 
ened by so many terrible lessons and enticed by 
the bait of Christian charity into the evangelical 
nets. Here is what Father Broullion tells us of his 
last labors and his holy death, which made so deep 
an impression upon Clerc : 

" A witness of the fearful suffering caused by 
the scarcity of food, he forgot his own needs, and, 
that he might assist a greater number of the un 
fortunates, denied himself all but what was abso 
lutely necessary. No more fruit, no more meat, no 
strengthening beverage graced his repasts ; once a 



Shanghai and the Jesuit Mission. 291 

day he ate a little rice and dried herbs, an insuffi 
cient and unwholesome diet, but which he re 
proached himself for if he learned that some poor 
wretch in the neighborhood was dying of hunger ; 
he would then make haste to send him the dishes 
off his table, happy to fast to save a fellow-crea 
ture s life. 

" During a six months sojourn in Ou-ho he 
preached to the pagans several times a day. A 
large number of catechumens were granted to his 
zeal ; he baptized as many as thirty-two at once, 
and forty others were awaiting the same grace 
when he fell sick. Seventy-two children collected 
by his efforts were confided to Christian families, 
who engaged to maintain them. In the meantime 
we vainly endeavored to send him aid ; he was at 
a distance, and the insurgent army of Kuam-si 
closed the route. Therefore he continued to im 
pose upon himself new privations in order to carry 
on his work. Labor and fasting exhausted his 
strength. Forced to keep his bed, he no longer 
got up except to eelebrate Mass. Nevertheless, 
being sent for by some sick persons who were dying 
of typhoid fever, he hurried to their assistance, 
This was his last effort. 

" The next morning he wanted to rise again to 
offer the Holy Sacrifice. ( There is no priest, he 
said, ( whom I can call upon to give me the Holy 
Viaticum. Pmust myself consecrate, so as to die 
in the arms ot our Lord. But his members re 
fused to obey him. Yielding to the entreaties of 
his catechist, he consented that a Christian physi- 



292 Alexis Clerc. 

clan should be called ; but this last, delayed by the 
rains and the inundation, only arrived just after 
the father had taken a remedy prepared by a pagan. 
Either from the effect of this medicine or because 
the disease had already reached its final stage, the 
same day Father Kene fell into a state that pre 
ludes the agony, and recovered the use of his 
tongue only in his last hour. 

"On the vigil of St. Mark s his countenance 
lighted up with intense happiness, and, fixing a 
joyous gaze on his catechist, as if to communicate 
to him his thoughts, he seemed to charge him with 
his farewells to his brothers and his friends in the 
Society of Jesus. The following day, April 25, 
1853, he gave up his soul to the Gcd whose glory 
he had procured at the cost of his life. His suffer 
ings, his death, his prayers inaugurated the pro 
gress of the Gospel in Ngan-hoei, even as the de- 
yotedness of Brother Sinoquet and of the Fathers 
Esteve, Gaetano (Massa), and Pacelli was a seed 
of salvation for Kiang-sou." 

But while Clerc contemplates with an envious 
eye the heroic devotedness of the missionaries 
struggling with pestilence and famine, behold a 
new scourge is let loose upon the mission the 
scourge of war a war feebly conducted, and 
wherein the combatants give proof of little disci 
pline and military bravery, but for that reason all 
the more fatal to the inoffensive populations whom 
it overruns and crushes without pity. From 
Shanghai, where the approach of the rebels is 



Shanghai and the Jesuit Mission. 293 

dreaded, and not less, perhaps, that of the impe 
rialists, Clerc writes, June 1 : 

" MY DEAR FATHEE : The vessel which took my 
last letters had the misfortune to be lost with the 
mail. My package was a good big one. I am. 
going to try to repeat its contents very briefly. 

"The great affair is the war of the rebellion. I 
think I have already told you how a band of men 
belonging to the province of Kiang-si passed vic 
toriously through Kiaug-si, Canton, Honan, and 
Hou-pe, which are equal to four countries of the 
size of France.* Now they are in this province of 
Kiang-nan, masters of Nankin and Tchen-kiang- 
fou. So far they have received no check ; but 
they have established no authority in the countries 
they have traversed, and consequently have left 
them thoroughly disorganized, driving all the ma 
gistrates away and building up nothing, to the 
triple detriment of the emperor, of themselves, and 
especially of the inhabitants. But, looking at the 
immense extent of territory that now separates 
them from their point of departure, it is plain that 
theirs is the inevitable alternative of conquering or 
all perishing. The number of these rebels is very 
small in comparison with the enterprise, and well- 
informed persons do not suppose them to be over 

* Clerc deceives himself, we think. The rebels started from 
Kouang-si, or Western Kouang, adjoining Kouang-tong (Can 
ton), or Eastern Kouang. Therefore our missionarie > gene 
rally call them Kuam-si-jen, or men of Kouaiig-^i (Kuam si, 
Portuguese orthography) ; or, quite simply, Kuamsimavs. 
Kiang-si, situated between Kouang-si and Kian^-nan, was the 
most direct route the insurrection could have taken to reach 
Nankin. 



294 Alexis Clerc. 

five thousand. How can a handful of men so im 
peril a great empire ? It is not because they are 
better armed, more able, or braver, perhaps, than 
the emperor s soldiers ; but all the way from their 
own province,, where probably they were more nu 
merous, they have had no veritable resistance to 
overcome, and their adversaries have bteen more 
nimble in flying than in advancing. 

"Assuredly, if the mobiles had been trans 
ported * to China instead of California, they might 
have conquered the empire. It is astonishing that 
there does not spring up some adventurer to thus 
try his fortune. 

" What is certain is that this empire is rotten to 
the core in its rulers, whose corruption and greed 
are the scourge of the people, rendering them an 
easy prey for the first who will undertake to sub 
jugate them. It is said that the emperor is as 
sembling all he has left of Tartars in the north to 
march to exterminate the rebels. There is little 
necessity for such great efforts ; but the positive 
fact is that the insurgents are left in quiet posses 
sion of what they occupy. They on their side have 
made forced levies, and, setting one of their own 
party over every twenty-five men, try to make sol 
diers of them. 

" The rebels seem to me to have small chance of 
success ; but, on the other hand, in Kiang-si (pro 
bably Kouang-si) a new uprising is talked of, and 
they say that the province of Canton begins to be 

* The mobiles had been mutinous. TRANS. 






Shanghai and the Jesuit Mission. 295 

extremely alarmed. Besides, the city of Amoy has 
just been taken from the mandarins by some Chi 
nese belonging to a secret society, the avengers of 
a member of the society who was unjustly put to 
death three years ago by the governor of that city. 
Finally, the pirates, more numerous than ever, 
blockade Fou-tcheou-fou, the capital of Fokien. 
Is the end of the empire at hand ? I do not think 
so. The history of China presents many such 
critical epochs. How unjust would the complaints 
of European nations appear to the Chinese ! To 
day cofhinerce is almost suspended throughout 
China ; you are well aware in France that the Chi 
nese are an entirely commercial people ; the ruin 
of several important European houses is also nearly 
certain. The misery, already so great, goes on in 
creasing beyond all proportion, and driving the 
people, perhaps, to every excess. This populous 
empire is therefore threatened with the greatest 
misfortunes. As to the rebels properly so called, 
the uncertainty about them has appeared up to the 
present time to dictate the policy of the European 
powers in their regard. The governor-general of 
the double province of Kiang-sou and Ngan-hoei, 
or Kiang-nan, has, in the name of the emperor, 
asked all the foreign ministers for assistance 
against the rebels, but nothing has resulted from 
his request. The English plenipotentiary, Sir G-. 
Bonham, has been to Nankin, has communicated 
with the Kuamsmians, and has brought back their 
proclamations and some books containing their doc 
trines. He treated with the chiefs under the 



296 Alexis Clerc. 

honorary titles they assume it is so much in har 
mony with English politics to encourage all revolu 
tions ; then, after that exploit, he left for Hong- 
Kong with the vessels he brought with him. 

"The American minister attempted to go to 
Nankin, but the vessel he was on board of drew 
too much water; since, all the American vessels 
have left for the Lieou-kieou Islands, the last ren 
dezvous before reaching Japan, whither they are 
bound to open the negotiation so long talked of." 

After a melancholy reference to his own inac 
tion, Clerc adds these few particulars of the* charac 
ter of the insurrection : 

" The rebels affect to be fulfilling a divine mis 
sion, and pretend that they blindly obey the orders 
of God. Their books are a mixture of Protestant 
and Mohammedan notions ; they seem to be fatal 
ists, prove their mission by their success, and de 
clare themselves perfectly resigned to yield the day 
they shall have accomplished their destiny. Per 
haps Freemasonry has also something to do with 
their plans. The secret societies play a certain 
part in these countries, especially among the ex 
patriated Chinese, who are very numerous in Eng 
lish and Dutch Malacca. 

" The Christians of Nankin have had to suffer 
from these rebels ; some have been called upon to 
join the army, others to perform some religious act 
contrary to the faith. Many have perished. Still, 
it is not yet a regular persecution. The pagans 
have also perished in very great numbers. Up to 
the present the Christians have been badly treated 



Shanghai and the Jesuit Mission. 297 

but we do not know that any have been put to 
death solely on account of their religion. Never 
theless, the insurgents have done enough to pre 
vent us from wishing them any success." 

A letter from Mgr. Maresca gives more details of 
this beginning of persecution, and concludes in 
these terms : "Of the six hundred Christians we 
counted in the cities of Nankin, Yang-tcheou, and 
Tchen-Kiang, fifty have been massacred or burned, 
and several have been bound and beaten. The 
greater number have lost everything, and are now 
captives, exposed to all kinds of dangers to soul 
and body." 

There was not the least doubt but that a suffi 
cient motive for armed intervention could be 
found in such facts. 

Therefore Clerc restrains himself no longer ; 
since he cannot act he must speak, and his words 
will be heard in Paris even in the office of a minis 
ter. 

In the first days of July, on board the Cassini, 
which was then at anchor near Castel Peak, a little 
distance from Shanghai, he takes his pen and 
begins to write at the most rapid rate a "Note 
on our Position in China, in Cochin China, and in 
Corea, and on the Part we might Play in those 
Countries." The opening paragraphs breathe the 
loftiest sentiments. I quote : 

"France, obedient to the duty of a state not to 
suffer great events which do not actually touch its 
interests to transpire in the world without mani 
festing its presence, and without reserving its 



298 Alexis Clerc. 

rights when it does not actually assert them 
France, ever since the opium war, maintains in 
Chinese waters naval vessels which the protection 
of her commerce does not seem to require. Yet, 
should the line of conduct marked out for our 
diplomatic agents and our military commanders be 
dictated only by that somewhat vague and indefi 
nite idea ? Let us also obey that mysterious in 
stinct which for thirty years has been directing the 
attention of civilized nations to China ; let us also 
be prepared to play in that country a role in 
harmony with our national character and capabili 
ties. If the growing influence of England and the 
United States is due to their commerce, why 
should not ours, in the want of that basis, be 
founded upon our arms enforcing justice ? France 
does not derive the least of the splendor of her 
military glory from the wars she has waged with 
out securing material gain, and she scorns a policy 
that would draw the sword only to dictate com 
mercial treaties. 

"The empires of these vast regions are often the 
theatre of unforeseen catastrophes ; palace revolu 
tions are frequent. Everybody knows how the 
Bishop of Adran conquered to our country a 
powerful and deserved influence in Cochin China ; 
circumstances more or less similar may frequently 
present themselves, and it is important that our 
representatives should be able to profit by them. 
At all events, the desire for a large share of influ 
ence is not in this case the inspiration only of nation 
al pride, and although such an ambition be irrepre- 



Shanghai and the Jesuit Mission. 299 

hensible in itself, it is justified by a nobler motive. 
From Tartary almost to the peninsula of Malacca 
numerous missionaries of our faith, and nearly all 
Frenchmen, are evangelizing these immense and 
unfortunate regions. France is the natural pro 
tector of all; the European nations recognize the 
honor and charge as hers, and by a tradition which 
is indestructible since times so disastrous to us 
have not destroyed it these people turn their eyes 
to her whe in their sufferings they lose all other 
hope." 

Clerc is of the opinion that by prudent manage 
ment a protection may be extended to religion that 
will be "neither an armed proselytism of the peo 
ple, nor a usurpation of the authority of the 
princes." And thereupon he undertakes to exa 
mine into the condition of those three empires of 
the extreme East China, Cochin China, and Corea. 

His views on Cochin China, in particular, have a 
justness which must cause them to be accepted 
sooner or later, and whatever may have been the 
fate of his note, we recognize in it the thought that 
dictated the course of the government when it 
finally decided to send to those countries sufficient 
forces to gain a footing and found a lasting estab 
lishment. 

"Still more recent "treaties grant us important 
previleges in Cochin China ; we might justly claim 
the ownership cf Tourania, ceded to France by the 
Emperor Kia-long. Admiral Cecile failed in bis 
attempt to renew our relations with that empire, 
lately our friend and ally. Admiral Lapierre was 



300 Alexis Clerc. 

obliged to repel by force the answer which was 
prepared for that same demand. If Captain La- 
pierre, who in this matter so nobly braved the dis 
grace which a certain shade of public opinion 
would surely inflict upon him, had served a govern 
ment like the one that has lately rewarded his ser 
vices, he would undoubtedly, after the destruction 
of the Cochin Chinese fleet, have imposed a treaty 
on the vanquished nation, and France would not 
have allowed the executioner s axe to strike by or 
der of a blind and cruel prince her noble children, 
Scheffler and Bonnard, martyred for the faith while 
French vessels were cruising along the coasts or 
were fruitlessly stationed at Macao." 

This was using noble language and speaking 
plain French. But when Clerc s note reached the 
office of the minister, for it did arrive there,* 
the government was occupied with quite an 
other affair namely, the Crimean expedition. 
Permit us to here add a detail which we have from 
good authority. After the taking of Sebastopol it 
was desired to learn what had been the role of the 
Bishop of Adran, and what rights resulted to 
France from the alliance formed between King 
Louis XVI. and the Emperor of Cochin China. 
At the request of persons in high position, a new 
note was drawn up in Paris, and it was transmitted 
by Baron Cauchy, the illustrious geometrician, to 
Marshal Vaillant, his confrere in the. Academy of 
Sciences, at the institute one day when, as usual, 

*It is marked with a stamp bearing these words : "Navy 
and Colonies. Office of the minister, November 3, 1853. 



Shanghai and the Jesuit Mission. 301 

they occupied neighboring chairs. This was the 
only place where these two men, whose faith and 
politics were so different, could meet and to a certain 
point understand one another. Several years be 
fore his death Clerc saw the accomplishment of a 
wish that ,was so dear to his heart, and we may 
judge of the joy he must have felt when in his re 
treat he learned that the French flag floated over 
the walls of Saigon. 

While the role of France thus appeared to him 
in all its grandeur, and he endeavored to kindle 
afar the fire with which his noble heart was burn 
ing, he was, to his great dislike, obliged to leave 
Shanghai once more, but not without the hope of 
returning ; he could not imagine that the Cassini 
would not be employed in protecting the Christian 
settlements of Kiang-nan and the European inter 
ests so closely threatened by the insurgents. He 
wrote from Hong-Kong July 22 : " The Cassini is 
repairing her boilers, and probably by the end of 
August we will be in such good trim that our 
cruise may easily be prolonged another two years. 
Now, if France decides to interfere in China, it is 
hard for me to believe that the Cassini will not be 
used, since she is on the spot and will be ready for 
all the various services that can be expected from 
a steam vessel. Consequently I defer all hope of 
returning home, and fix no limit to our stay here. 
The vessels that are to relieve those now at the 
station have left France, the Constantine on the 
6th of February, and the Colbert at the beginning 
of March. The Constantine is expected daily, and 



302 Alexis Clerc. 

on her arrival the Capricieuse will leave." In 
short, he would willingly have seen the cruise, 
which had already lasted nearly three years, con 
tinued one or two years more. Behold how an 
ambition loftier than that he obeyed on entering 
the navy attached him to a career from which he 
no longer expected aught for himself, but which 
was always noble and grand in his eyes when it be 
came the auxiliary of civilization, or, to use the 
right word, of Christianity ! 

In the course of September the Cassini was an 
chored in the Ta ipa two miles from Macao, when 
Mr. de Plas received from the French charge 
d affaires an invitation to come as quickly as possi 
ble to Shanghai, where the European establish 
ments were in the greatest danger. The vessel s 
repairs were not finished, but the commander did 
not hesitate ; he started the next day, and early in 
October was at his new post. 

This is what had transpired during the Cassini s 
absence from Shanghai : On the 7th of September, 
at the moment it was least expected, the city was 
invaded by a band of men in red garments and 
armed with guns, sabres, and clubs. Before day 
break they are masters of the gates, and at sunrise 
they already occupy the tribunals and the princi 
pal guard-houses. Some mandarins are killed, 
others flee ; the soldiers, to the number of a thou 
sand perhaps, hide so successfully that not a single 
one is to be seen. At nine o clock there is a cry in 
the streets that the people have nothing to fear ; 
posters appear on the walls ; th ey read that any 



Shanghai and the Jesuit Mission. 303 

attempt on property will be punished with death. 
And in fact several wretches convicted of theft 
were beheaded. Thus everything was performed 
in imitation of the great capitals of Europe ; our 
Chinese rioters proved accomplished masters of the 
art, and there remained but little for them to learn 
before they might cease envying the practised re 
volutionists of Paris. 

Scarcely arrived, the commander of the Gassini, 
conjointly with the French consul, takes efficacious 
measures for the protection of the national estab 
lishments. Every evening a guard of sailors is 
sent to the consulate, and some men are detached 
to Tom-ka-tou and Shanghai. The French nag is 
raised on the Jesuit Fathers house at Tom-ka-tou ; 
if it is lowered it will be a signal cf distress. 

The rebels a collection of Fokienese and Can 
tonese were shut up in the fortified portion of 
the city, whence they defied the imperialists with 
an audacity increased by the cowardice of their ad 
versaries. It is suspected that they were secretly 
aided by Europeans clever enough to direct the 
movement and interested in the success of the in 
surrection. 

The commander of the Cassini relates to us a 
tragicomic incident in which Clerc, always ready 
for a self-sacrifice, gave proof of his presence of 
mind and his habitual coolness: 

"In the month of November a Chinese fleet was 
ordered to cannonade the city, and took up a posi 
tion near Tom-ka-tou, just so as to draw the firing 
of the insurgents in the direction of the cathedral 



304 Alexis Clerc. 

and the principal residence of the Fathers. The 
signal flag was lowered. After having deliberated 
before God, the commander sent Alexis Clerc in 
the longboat to learn what was going on, and to 
put a stop to the firing in that part of the city, if 
need be* Clerc set out. The boat was saluted 
with a few balls, which might very well not have 
been exactly intended for it, and it arrived atTom- 
ka-tou, where Father Lemaitre (since superior-gene 
ral of the mission) did not hesitate to offer himself 
to treat with the Chinese admiral. That dignitary 
was found at the bottom of the hold of his ship, 
the noise of the cannon being particularly dis 
agreeable to him. He was made to understand 
that if he continued to menace, or to cause to be 
menaced, the residence of Tom-ka-tou by firing on 
the ramparts of the city, the French commander 
would interpose with his cannon. Far from being 
displeased, the admiral received this summons with 
joy, and gave Lieutenant Clerc and Father Lemai 
tre carte "blanche to warn the little vessels of his 
fleet. The captains shared their admiral s satis 
faction, and promptly vacated the position. Cour 
age, seconded by extreme good humor in Lieutenant 
Clerc and Father Lemaitre, must have produced a 
great effect upon the Chinese, for the balls could 
just as easily have struck the negotiators as the 
combatants." 

Clerc decided that those sorry imperialists were 
of no great account ; still, disgraced as they were 
in his eyes, he preferred them to the rebels, consi 
dering them to be after all the representatives of 



Shanghai and the Jesuit Mission. 305 

established order, and the defenders, such as they 
were, of a regular government. He wrote to 
Father Broullion, who was then in France attending 
to the business of the mission : " Chinese pride, 
hardy as you know it to be, cannot altogether sur 
vive such assaults. The incredible cowardice and 
the still more incredible stupidity of the attacks 
the imperialists make on the city are a cause of 
confusion to themselves, and the fathers in dealing 
with them really find them no longer the same 
men. A few such lessons and there will be no 
more of that contempt with which they have re 
garded all foreigners to struggle against. This 
consideration, which is certainly of great weight, 
seems to me a reason for looking at the revolts less 
unfavorably, albeit they are but the involuntary 
cause of this good. On the other hand, we have 
learned from the letter Mgr. Mouly writes you that 
in Pckln the Christians have been persecuted and 
the cross has been torn down. Father Eene s 
(Massa) catechist has confessed the faith in 
tortures, and, on the point of being put to death, 
he saved his life through the protection of a man 
darin whom he had converted. As for me, I 
would still prefer to lay violent hands on the re 
bels ; but that is out of the question ; the plan is 
to act always as though we were in Europe, and to 
be governed by an international law that is some 
what fantastic with its scruple about equity."* 

* Letter of November 1, 1853, published by Father Broullion 
in his "Memoir on the Present Condition of the Mission 
of Kiang-nan." Paris, 1855, p. 334. 



306 Alexis Clerc. 

Opinions were very much divided. People knew 
very well what to think of the Fokienese and the 
Cantonese that occupied Shanghai regular ban 
dits skilfully organized for pillage ; but the rebels 
of Kouang-si, masters of Nankin, enjoyed from afar 
off more prestige, and it was asked if they were not 
achieving a great revolution to the advantage of 
Chinese nationality ; for, it must not be forgotten, 
the reigning dynasty was of Tartar race, dated only 
from the middle of the seventeenth century, and 
established itself only by conquest. Among the 
Europeans whose good wishes were with the insur 
rection some pretended that the accession of Tai- 
ping, the emperor of the Kuam-si-jen, could not 
fail to inaugurate an era of religious liberty. The 
fact is, the partisans of that mysterious and ex 
tremely cunning personage loudly proclaimed them 
selves as the exterminators of idolatry, and placed 
in the number of their religious books a translation 
of St. Matthew and some fragments of the Bible. 
On the other hand, they had torn down crosses, 
persecuted and put to death a certain number of 
Christians ; their chiefs, it was said, practised 
polygamy, which did not promise a very sincere 
respect for evangelical morality, and did little 
credit to the Protestant ministers, some of whom 
boasted of having been the originators of the move 
ment. What should be thought of them ? Should 
the insurgents, who were already marching on 
Pekin, be regarded seriously and ranked as bellige 
rents by the representatives of the European 
powers ? It was worth the while to be enlightened 



Shanghai and the Jesuit Mission. 307 

about this, and it was decided to go to Nankin to 
investigate matters, so as to take sides understand- 



Therefore, at the end of November Commander 
de Plas receives on board the Cassini Mr. de Bour- 
boulon, Minister Plenipotentiary of France ; Mme. 
de Bourboulon, Mr. de Courcy, secretary of the lega 
tion, and their suite. At the request of Mr. Edan, 
consul ad interim (Mr. de Montigny having left 
for France), two Jesuits, Fathers Gotteland and 
Clavelin, are named to accompany the expedi 
tion. 

The anchor is weighed ; the Yang-tse-kiang is 
ascended. The draught of the vessel and the 
moving sandbanks necessitate a careful advance; 
the travellers have leisure to gaze at the beautiful 
river, the second in the world, the mouth of which 
is nearly thirty leagues wide. About noon of the 
3d of December they pass Kiang-in, a city of the 
third order, formerly the centre of numerous Chris 
tian settlements, nothing of which remains but the 
ruins. On the 5th they are at Tchen-kiang-fou, a 
city of the second order, whose port is formed by 
the Isle of G-old and the Isle of Silver. Those 
charming places, ravaged by civil war, offer only 
desolation to the beholder. Finally, on the 6th, 
they ure in sight of Nankin. The Cassini had met 
two fleets of from two to three hundred sails with 
out experiencing any hostile demonstration. Here, 
for the first time, the report of a cannon comes 
from a battery protected by the ramparts, and a 
ball hisses past the ears of the new arrivals. They 



308 Alexis Clerc. 

await a second shot before responding; it is not 
fired, and the explanations, which they make haste 
to demand, are given in the politest manner. They 
are satisfied with them. 

I will not speak of the interviews of the French 
legation with the ministers of the Emperor Tai- 
ping ; Father Clavelin has left a picturesque and 
animated description of them in a letter published 
by Father Broullion.* Mr. de Courcy, who was 
present, says nothing about them in his volume 
entitled " L Empire du Milieu." In short, the 
result was little, if not nothing at all. Clerc an 
ticipated this from the commencement, and on the 
return of the expedition he congratulated himself 
that French diplomacy had escaped the danger of 
compromising, by treating with the rebels, its own 
dignity and the security of the Christians evan 
gelized by our missionaries. But he had been 
profoundly moved by the spectacle of desolation 
offered by that immense city of Nankin, and some 
time afterwards he wrote : " We walked through 
a very great part of it, and we saw neither an arti 
san working at his trade nor a merchant engaged 
in nis traffic. All the houses were more or less 
dilapidated, and, an extraordinary thing, those 
even that were inhabited had not been repaired ; 
the doors and windows were still hanging to the 
hinges, but were not secured ! In my opinion there 
is no longer any right of property recognized in 
Nankin, and communism is realized to their hearts 

* "Memoir on the Present State of the Mission of Kiang- 
nan," Appendix, p. 337. 



Shanghai and the Jesuit Mission. 309 

content by the experimenters. The women, sepa 
rated from their families, even from their husbands, 
are in little bands penned up in the houses of one 
quarter ; they are under the surveillance of one of 
their number, who exercises an almost military 
authority. As to the men whether it was that 
the inhabitants of Nankin had taken flight, or 
that it had been preferred to send them to the 
field in order to make more sure of the city nearly 
all those we saw were very young and generally 
natives of other provinces. 

"All those youths were richly clothed in still new 
silk garments ; but I was more saddened by that 
luxury than I would have been by poverty, for it 
is the result of enormous pillage and of the prodi 
gality that belongs to brigandage. 

" One can only feel the greatest pity for this 
unfortunate nation oppressed by two powers, each 
as bad as the other. 

" These people were created to live under the 
yoke, and if they had the happiness of being sub 
jects of a good government they would not dream 
of revolt, for, bad enough as that of the Tartars is, 
nobody is anxious to welcome the new future dy 
nasty. 

" Europe is ignorant of her power, and has no 
longer enough of the spirit of chivalry to care 
about doing noble deeds outside of her own terri 
tory. If these were the days of Magellan and Cor- 
tez it would be deemed a joy to do as much as 
possible for all these people seated in the shadow 
of death." 



3io Alexis Clerc. 

On the 18th of December, at noon, the Cassini 
again cast anchor before Shanghai. 

" Thus our Nankin expedition," Father Clave- 
> lin writes, "was oyer. Nevertheless, I had to 
prolong my stay on shipboard, because our good 
commander desired very much to have a priest on 
board the Cassini for the solemnity of Christmas. 
Christmas eve we heard the cannon rumbling far 
into the night ; a ball even fell in our midst. 
Yet, at the moment of beginning Mass, which all 
the ship s company was present at, there was a 
perfect silence ; this, joined to the recollection of 
the assistants, to the novelty of the spectacle, to 
the sentiments inherent in such a festival, and, 
finally, to the sight of the commander, of four of 
ficers, and several non-commissioned officers and 
bailors coming forward to receive with the piety 
which distinguished them Holy Communion in 
presence of the entire assembly all that made, I 
say, a profound impression upon me, and that feast 
will never be obliterated from my memory." 

The next day was devoted to the performance 
of an act of necessary justice. Two catechists of 
the mission, seized by the rebels, had been treated 
as spies, and one of them cruelly tortured. The 
commander of the Colbert, recently arrived from 
France to replace the Cassini, exacted a repara 
tion ; he was ready, in case of refusal, to discharge 
his guns. The reparation was made. Liou, chief 
of the rebels, sent the guilty man with execution 
ers. A pardon was granted; the Chinese were 
known to be capable of anything ; more than once 



Shanghai and the Jesuit Mission. 3 1 1 

on similar occasions they had yielded up the inno 
cent in place of the guilty. These proceedings, as 
generous as they were firm, had an excellent effect 
both for the honor of the French flag and the con 
sideration shown to those over whom it extended 
its efficacious protection. 

" It is thus," says Father Clavelin," that, thanks 
to the representatives of France, we enjoy a per 
fect, and, under the circumstances, truly extraor 
dinary tranquillity. May it always continue." 

It was not fitting to interrupt the recital of the 
services rendered by the Cassini to the mission of 
Kiang-nan and the European establishments of 
Shanghai ; consequently we have so far shown our 
hero only in his life of action, reserving to our 
selves to afterwards make known the interior labor 
to which he devoted himself that he might be 
firmly decided on Lis vocation when he should 
return to France. It was the great affair he had 
already a first time treated of with Father de Ba- 
vignan, and with which he desired to occupy him 
self anew in the residence of Zi-ka-wei, under the 
direction of an eminent and holy missionary, Fa 
ther Languillat, now administrator of the diocese 
of Nankin. 

Therefore, shortly before the Cassintfs depar 
ture for Nankin he put himself in retreat; he 
made the " Spiritual Exercises" fervently, and pro 
ceeded with all deliberation to that important act 
of the choice of a state of life, to the election, to 
use the language of the " Exercises." For this St. 
Ignatius gives rules of admirable wisdom, and 



3 I2 



Alexis Clerc* 



which, faithfully observed, render a mistake im 
possible, so to speak. The first and principal is 
that the eye of our intention be simple : that we 
have no object other than the glory of God and 
the salvation of our soul ; that our choice tend 
solely to the attainment of that object. Did Clerc 
observe this rule well ? We shall be able to judge; 
he brought from Zi-ka-wei the sheet on which he 
put in writing the determining motives of his elec 
tion, and we have it before us ; we will make some 
extracts of what is most characteristic. 

Proceeding systematically, he successively lays 
down four questions, which he examines and re 
solves in the following manner : 

"Must I aim at perfection ? * 

1. This is not necessary 
to salvation. 

2. It is, perhaps, beyond 
my power of perseverance. 

3. If my courage fails in 
an undertaking which is 
not necessary, it will there 
by be much weakened for 
what is absolutely necessary. 



1. It is a much surer way 
of attaining it. 

2. Nothing is impossible 
to God ; the days pass one 
by one. 

3. Not to undertake is 
to be already beaten without 
righting, especially if the 
matter has been reflected 
upon. 

4. It is nobler. 

5. It is more pleasing to 
our Lord. 

G. The interior voice of 
conscience reproaching me 
for relaxations which are not 

* We need not remark that the left-hand column contains 
the reasons against, and the right-hand column the reasons 
/or an affirmative answer to the questions. 



Shanghai and the Jesuit Mission, 3 1 3 



sins, is the voice of our 
Lord jealous of my perfec 
tion. 

7. Our Lord vomits the 
tepid out of his mouth. 

8. He to whom more has 
been forgiven owes more 
gratitude. 

" Therefore I ought to aim at perfection, and I will. 



" Must I enter the religious state in order to aim a* per 
fection ? 



1. I must provide 
my father s wants. 



for 



1. My brother Jules will 
gladly do this by himself. 
I will also be able to leave 
my father some of my sav 
ings of this cruise. 

2. I experience a great 
weariness which neither ser 
vice on shore nor at sea 
drives away. 

3. It seems to me im 
possible not to be con 
taminated by the social life 
on board ship. 

4. It is an exception to 
find the helps of religion on 
shipboard. 

5. I have no particular 
attraction for my calling ; 
so far my career does not 
bind me. 

6. Our Lord gives me 
strength to embrace without 
difficulty poverty and chasti 
ty ; it is imprudent to risk 
these gifts in the world. 



314 



Alexis Clerc. 



7. Tending to perfection 
in the world would be a sin 
gular vocation ; the experi 
ence of these last four years 
proves that it would be a 
fault to wait longer. 

8. I have already lost in 
the matter of charity. 

9. There is no perfec 
tion without obedience. 

10. It is evident to me 
that in religion one is much 
more useful to himself and 
others. 

11. It is the royal road. 

12. How can I help fore 
seeing the assaults of vain 
glory that will follow the 
most ordinary advancement 
in my career. 

13. It is the haven. 

14. It has been for four 
years the more or less de 
finite term to which I have 
aspired. 

" Therefore I ought to enter the religious state, and I will. 



/ What religious order must I choose ? 

1. The Society of Jesus is 
the most numerous and the 
most securely established in 
France. 

2. In it one has less rea 
son to pretend to a distin 
guished position. 

3. It embraces all good 



Shanghai and the Jesuit Mission. 3 1 5 



will. 



works, and it is only the 
suggestion of the evil spirit 
or of pride that can make a 
man believe that it does not 
employ him in his right 
place. 

4. It assumes the entire 
responsibility of the career 
it gives you ; for example, 
you do not take upon your 
self to receive the priest 
hood. 

5. It takes the most admi 
rable and minute care of the 
salvation and perfection of 
its children. 

6. It allows no compro 
mises with the rule : dispen 
sations, etc. 

Therefore I ought to enter the Society of Jesus, and I 



" When shall I enter the Society of Jesus ? 

1. To quit the Cassini 
would be not only extraordi 
nary, but, I think, impossi 
ble. 

2. It would be to choose 
for myself a destination 
among all those which the 
Society might give me. 

3. It seems to me natu 
ral and suitable to obtain 
my father s consent, at least 
to myself inform him of my 
determination. 

4. It seems to rne useless 



316 Alexis Clerc. 

and dangerous to render 
any other duties to the 
world. 

"Therefore, after a very few days spent in Paris, I 
ought to go to the novitiate that will have been designated 
to me, and I will. 

ALEXIS CLEBC. 

" GIVEN AT ZI-KA-WEI, October 17." 

Such are the important and holy resolutions 
which Alexis had taken before God, and which he 
would accomplish without delay. 

We pass over the circumstances of the return to 
France, which would be of little interest now. 
Favored on her Toyage by superb weather, the 
Cassini entered the harbor of Lorient July 5, 1854. 
She happened right in the midst of preparations 
for war, and, without having time to so much as 
look about, was enveloped in the general commo 
tion caused by the Crimean expedition. The day 
after his arrival Alexis wrote to his father : 

" The port of Lorient is in twice its usual ac 
tivity, and they are making extraordinary efforts to 
get the Cassini ready to start in six days for the 
Baltic Sea, and to carry thither I don t know what. 
However, all this fine zeal does not affect me much, 
for I was put on shore the day of our arrival, and 
I have refused to ask to continue this new tail of 
the campaign. 

" Nevertheless, there has been some sort of 
confusion, so that to-day at four o clock I 
must return to the ship, after having been 
landed tv?ice, Still, I consider my detachment as 



Shanghai and the Jesuit Mission. 317 

real, and I hope to obtain a little permit of fifteen 
days for Paris. I cannot say when I will arrive." 

After so long an absence he was anxious to em 
brace his father and his brother Jules, to congratu 
late the latter on the union he had just contracted 
with a lady worthy of him, and to participate like 
a good brother in that family event, with the cir 
cumstances of which he was still unacquainted, de 
prived as he had been of all correspondence since 
his voyage to Singapore. He cared but middlingly 
to share the new fortune of the Cassini, which was 
to be used as a transport. It was in a rather more 
military manner that he would have chosen to 
serve if the thing had depended upon him. 

" One must accommodate one s self to the times/ 
he wrote two days later, "and if I could be good 
for anything, it is not a cruise of three years and a 
half which has not exhausted me that would de 
ter me from serving again directly." " Madame 
my sister-in law," he courteously adds, "has been 
so kind as to write me a few words. I am very 
grateful to her, and I hope that, being persons of 
good-will, it will not be long before we are truly 
brother and sister. Patience ! patience ! and 
everything will be arranged to please everybody." 

To be brief, notwithstanding the extreme fatigue 
of her crew and the bad state of her boilers, the 
Cassini was ordered to tow several ships and fri 
gates to Lorient, to Brest, or to Cherbourg, after 
which it was finally decided to put her out of com 
mission, and this decision was carried into effect 
early in August. Then only Clerc obtained per- 



3i8 Alexis Clerc. 

mission to visit his father. But before starting he 
offered his services for the Baltic Sea ; they were 
not accepted, all the positions being already filled. 
Eight days later Clerc was at the Novitiate of Saint 
Acheul, thus fulfilling to the letter the resolution 
"with which he had concluded his election : 

"After a very few days spent in Paris I ought to 
go to the novitiate that will have been designated 
to me, and I will," 



CHAPTER X. 

ALEXIS CLERO IN THE SOCIETY OF JESUS SAINT-ACHEUL. 

AT last, after four years of waiting, Clerc had it 
in his power to respond to the call of the Lord, 
which made itself heard in his heart in a way 
that was ever stronger and more urgent. Still, all 
was not done ; there were bonds to be broken be 
fore he could be received into the novitiate, and it 
was not difficult to foresee that paternal opposi 
tion, singularly favored by circumstances, would- 
not be disarmed by the first blow. Would it not 
even declare itself inflexible and relentless ? Alas ! 
we shall see it but too plainly this was what it 
did, and it cruelly kept its word to the end. 

Clerc must have had the presentiment of the ob 
stacles that awaited him and of the rude combat 
he would have to sustain when, having communi 
cated his resolution to Father de Ravignan imme 
diately on his arrival at Lorient, he received this 
rather discouraging reply : 

" PARIS, 35 Rue de Sevres, 
July 18, 1854. 

" MY VERY DEAR FRIEND : Your letter brings 
me the sweetest consolation. May God s grace 
keep you and preserve in your soul all the gifts of 

319 



320 Alexis Clerc. 

his goodness. Let us pray that his will may be 
perfectly accomplished in you. 

" It seems to me that you ought to wait still 
longer before taking a final resolution. Your re 
signation now would be ill-timed. Undoubtedly 
we must expect difficulties and obstacles ; never 
theless, let us fear nothing when we seek only the 
glory of God and the welfare of our soul. 

" You cannot doubt of my tender interest ; it 
follows you everywhere. Farewell, then, till we 
meet. Let us be united in the heart of our Lord 
and in the firmest hope. 

" My kind remembrances to the commander. 
"X. DE RAVIGNAN." 

It is to be believed that Father de Ravignan was 
satisfied with the explanations Clerc gave him 
when he came to Paris, and that then, from the 
opponent he had been, he declared himself an ally 
and auxiliary; it seems to us even impossible for him 
to have done otherwise if the generous postulant 
showed him the election he had made at Shang 
hai, and which ten months before had received 
the approbation of a religious as wise and enlight 
ened as Father Languillat. Had not the illustri 
ous and holy religious (Father de Ravignan), in his 
excellent work "On the Existence and Institute of 
the Jesuits," himself marked out the path which 
he saw his young friend treading with so firm a 
step ? Had he not, in treating of the election and 
in recalling his own experience, written these lines, 
wherein Alexis must have recognized his own 
course : " When the soul is tranquil, when it is in 



Saint- Acheul. 321 

peaceful possession of all its faculties, it will ba 
lance, it will weigh, the opposing motives, consult 
ing God in prayer. It will place itself in imagina 
tion on its death-bed at the feet of the Sovereign 
Judge, or else in presence of an unknown person, 
seen for the first time, who exposes his doubts, 
asks a solution of them, and appeals for a free and 
disinterested advice. Light is thus obtained, the 
choice is determined, all the repugnances of nature 
are immolated on the altar of sacrifice. Jesus 
Christ has conquered, and the faithful disciple a 
conqueror with him, sings and celebrates his vic 
tory by consecrating to the Lord his strength, his 
labors, and his whole life, either in the apostolate 
of the world or in the sacred army of the Church. 
G-od ! I bless thee and give thee thanks ; it was 
thus thou didst order my life and for ever assure 
my happiness." * 

This is language that will be understood by who 
ever has gone over the same road and arrived at the 
game destination, but which was unintelligible to 
Mr. Clerc, Sr., not only on account of his paternal 
affection, which shrank from that great sacrifice, 
but also, it must be acknowledged, in consequence 
of the prejudices with which his mind was ob 
scured. 

What passed between him and his son when the 
latter announced that he wanted to be a Jesuit and 
that he was going forthwith to knock at the door 
of the Novitiate of Saint-Acheul ? We can easily 

* "On the Existence and Institute of the Jesuits," chap, 
iii. "The Election, or Choice of a State of Life." 



322 Alexis Clerc. 

guess. Alexis was doubtless respectful, but he was 
firm ; he had appreciated the necessity and pro 
priety of obtaining his father s consent if he could ; 
not succeeding, he remembered that Jesus Christ 
said: "He that loveth father or mother more than 
me is not worthy of me " ; and he started for Saint- 
Acheul. 

He, however, left behind him the hope that he 
would return ; for, having spent only eight days at 
the most in Paris, he had had time neither to re 
ceive the acceptance of his resignation nor to ar 
range his little affairs like a man who is soon to 
die to the world and to whom things here below 
will henceforth be as nothing. But when he had 
once reached the threshold of the novitiate and 
learned with certainty that he would be admitted, 
reflecting on the assaults that awaited him in Paris 
and on the too evident impossibility of winning 
any consent from his father, he thought he ought 
not again to leave the port he had entered, in order 
that it might be well understood that his resolution 
was definitive and irrevocable ; consequently he 
wrote to Mr. Clerc : 

"MY DEAR FATHER : I thank you for the 
kindness you showed me when I communicated to 
you a project which deeply afflicted you. Assuredly 
I would be glad to spare you pain, but I feel very 
sensibly that in explaining my motives I shall suc 
ceed but imperfectly. I obey the conviction that 
I ought to take this step notwithstanding the sacri 
fices it imposes upon me. The constancy with 
which I have adhered to this project during four 



Saint- Acheul. 323 

years, and amid sucli varied circumstances, all 
suited to distract me from it as you hoped, indi 
cates sufficiently that nothing remains but to exe 
cute it. Men do not usually give so much mature 
reflection to even capital resolutions, and I should 
fail in a duty if, for the sake of preserving some 
advantages of comfort and vanity, I should refuse 
to respond to the voice of my reason enlightened 
by every available means. Therefore, dear father, 
believe that in this matter I am not acting under 
the illusion of any impulse, under the influence of 
any enthusiasm ; the few days I spent with you 
must, I think, have convinced you of this. Why, 
then, anticipate useless regrets, or, to speak more 
exactly, why fear them ? In reality, have they 
not been anticipated and averted by so much re 
flection, by the advice of experienced persons, and 
by so long a temporizing. 

"I know that your displeasure springs only 
from your disinterested affection, which dreads for 
me an evil that I seem to be running into blindly ; 
while, on the contrary, the evil is in remaining 
where I find myself out of place, and where my 
conscience can no longer be at peace. This is a 
little interior mystery which you can easily pene 
trate ; the truth is, I abandon an apparent good 
and a real evil, and I embrace a real good and an 
apparent evil. 

" Nevertheless, although reason justifies my con 
duct, it is not of itself sufficient to dictate it ; some 
thing besides reason is required to impose even a 
light sacrifice, and it is to that noble part of our 



324 Alexis Clerc. 

soul which then commands our will that I desire 
to address myself, to the end that the love of what 
is best, most perfect, may help you to bear what I 
do with a generous intention. 

"I inform you, then, my dear papa, that they 
consent to receive me in the novitiate ; it remains 
for me to follow faithfully the way wherein God 
calls me, and for you, my dear father, to take part 
in my entrance in the religious life by accepting it 
as far as possible for the love of God. 

"I believe it is wisest for me not to return to 
Paris, so as to avoid the untimely visits I would 
have to make to persons who are ignorant of my 
resolution, and also the monotonous representa 
tions which strangers would not fail to make me. 
I feel myself already passably awkward, and I 
should not know at all what air to assume ; more 
over, after such a drawing back the leap would be 
only more difficult. The very small number of 
business matters that I have left behind can be ar 
ranged by correspondence. Besides, I shall never 
have been so near you ; when you choose you can 
come to see me in three hours. 

"May Almighty God give us strength to ac 
complish what he asks of us ! 

" Farewell, dear papa, I embrace you most ten 
derly, and I pray God to render this blow less hard 
by giving you the convictipn that we are obeying 
his holy will. A. OLEEC. 

" SAINT- ACHEUL, August 19." 

This letter, at once so tender and so respectful, 
filled up the measure of that poor father s grief 



Saint- A cheuL 325 

and despair, for it made him feel that the struggle 
he was going to engage in with his son could only 
prove for both of them an inexhaustible source of 
bitterness. But passion does not reason, and, 
cost what it might, he was firmly resolved to op 
pose Alexis vocation, even at the price of the hap 
piness they had always found in the union, hither 
to so easy and natural, of their hearts. Directly 
after Alexis departure for Saint-Acheul he had 
composed a note in which he taxed his ingenuity to 
find reasons to divert his son from his project. 
Before it was for Alexis own good that he ought 
to remain in the navy, now it was for the sake of 
his father ; and becoming an egotist at will, he 
imagined a distant future when Clerc, having re 
tired from the service, would receive his father at 
his fireside in his humble bachelor s establishment, 
a desire which he expressed with a good deal of re 
serve, acknowledging that, to tell the truth, it 
would be difficult for him to be better off than he 
was with his son Jules and his daughter-in-law. 

But soon he has recourse to other arms which he 
did not think of at first, and he adds in a post- 
scriptum : " I beg you to yet reflect that you can 
not send in your resignation at this time. It 
would be cowardice to desert your post at the mo 
ment when there may be danger for you to incur." 
Clerc could feel quite easy about this last point ; 
his resolution, thank God, dated far enough back 
for the Crimean war to have nothing to do with it. 
If his offer to serve in the Baltic had been accept 
ed, he would have waited till the close of the cam- 



326 Alexis Clerc. 

paign to send in his resignation, and that not 
through fear of dishonor, which could not attach 
to him, but from an exalted idea of military duty. 
We have already seen in China, as we shall see later 
at La Eoquette, whether he was a man to bargain 
about his life and to retreat before bullets and 
balls. 

Mr. Clerc concluded with an adjuration and a 
threat : " I adjure you by all the authority a father 
can have over his son to defer your intention, at 
least until the close of the war. 

" If you do not listen to my prayer, write me no 
more ; all intercourse between you and me will be 
at an end." 

This certainly was a terrible assault ; but Clerc 
had foreseen all, was prepared for all ; for the 
love of him who on the cross endured an incom- 
prensible abandonment by his Heavenly Father he 
from that moment resigned himself to be, if such 
were G-od s will, denied and rejected by his father 
according to the flesh. 

Father de Ravignan was then at Saint- Acheul ; 
he frequently came there in the autumn to seek 
the solitude that was always dear to him, and in 
labor and prayer to renew his strength as in the 
days when, still obscure, he there consecrated the 
first fruits of his talents and zeal to the teaching 

O 

of theology. Mr. Clerc, who knew very well that 
the counsels of the eminent religious had already 
prolonged by four years his son s stay in the world, 
wrote to him in strict confidence, expecting thus to 
obtain that Alexis, relinquishing his ideas of 



Saint- Acheul. 227 

vocation, would return to Paris. He doubtless 
flattered himself (hat he had found an infallible 
means of conquering his son s obstinacy. Vain 
hope ! Here is what Father de Ravignan replied ; 
" SAINT- ACHEUL, August 24, 1854. 

" SIR : I understand perfectly the affliction of a 
father s heart, and I sympathize with you. But 
you must, likewise, understand that in a question 
as serious as this of your son s, I, we all, can only 
leave him to himself. He is free to-day, he will 
be free during the whole time of his novitiate (two 
years), if he remains ; he will contract no engage 
ments by the vows of religion until after the two 
years have elapsed. He will thus have leisure to 
examine his vocation and to decide with the full 
knowledge of what he is doing. At his age, with 
his experience of the world, he is in less danger of 
illusion than many others. Conscience, the con 
viction of the soul in the presence of God, are 
what is most sacred and most to be respected ; and 
all authorities, as well as all sentiments, I dare to 
say it, should bow before a conscientious determi 
nation of which God alone is the judge. 

" I hope, sir, that you will kindly accept my 
excuses for not being able to do what you desire. I 
offer with my most sincere good wishes the as 
surance of my high esteem. 

"X. DE RAVIGNAX." 

Mr. Clerc did not yield ; he had sworn to be irre 
concilable, and he was. It was for him a point of 
honor and a sort of engagement of conscience ; his 
political and religious liberalism, his lofty patriot- 



328 Alexis Clerc. 

ism, his paternal ambition, and even his affection 
which he believed outraged, all conspired to 
strengthen him in that determined and aggressive 
opposition which from the commencement left no 
room to hope for peace or truce. 

Behold what combats and heartrendings, so 
keenly felt by a delicate soul, met Clerc on his en 
trance to the religious life ! At the first step he 
felt himself assailed in his dearest affections, and, a 
voluntary victim, there was nothing for him to do 
but to bend beneath the cross which he was to 
carry all his life. 

He was as yet only in his first probation. Thus 
is called a period of from ten to twelve days de 
voted to a reciprocal confidence, the postulant 
making himself known, while at the same time be 
coming acquainted with the constitutions of the 
Society ; as is evident, a necessary confidence to 
avoid on both sides all misunderstandings, all sur 
prise in so important a matter. Father Alexander 
Mallet, master of novices, arid in that capacity 
charged with examining Clerc s dispositions, his 
greater or less fitness fcr the life and employments 
of the Society, was a truly interior man, austere 
and gentle, of frail constitution and sickly appear 
ance, not without warmth of heart when there was 
question of the good of souls and the interests of 
God s glory, but very slightly accessible to enthu 
siasm, and particularly attentive to keep himself 
on his guard as well as to caution others against 
even generous illusions. It is plain that if this 
character suited Clerc it was especially by its con- 



Sain t-A cheul. 329 

trasts with his own, by the advantage it was to him 
to find in his spiritual guide qualities with which 
he perhaps was not himself provided in the same 
degree. Before admitting him to the novitiate, 
Father Mallet, who, strictly speaking, might have 
relied on Father Languillat, and simply and solely 
confirmed the election Clerc had made a Zi-ka-wei, 
either to put the eagerness of his desires to the 
proof or to obtain more light on a subject about 
which there can never be too much, directed him 
to make a new election in regular form during his 
probation. 

We may be allowed to mention by the way that 
this shows plainly enough whether we catch sub 
jects on the wing to enroll them in spite of them 
selves, or by main force, under our banner, and 
whether the compelle intrare with which we are 
so much reproached, is truly our motto. Clerc 
was certainly not a subject to be disdained ; let 
us say more, he was by reason of his antecedents 
a particularly precious recruit for a religious 
order that was at that very time opening mili 
tary and naval preparatory schools. Nothing of 
all that, however, caused the superiors to think 
that they might lightly treat the great affair of 
vocation. 

Clerc made a new election. As may be readily 
supposed, it was not notably different from the 
first, at least in its foundation ; but under the 
stroke of trial and contradiction the resolution to 
forsake all in order to belong to Jesus Christ is 
emphasized with a redoubled energy that has its 



33O Alexis Clerc. 

value and its eloquence. We will quote some of 
the most remarkable passages : 

To the first question he puts himself : Shall I 
follow the counsels or only the precepts ? " he 
makes the following replies : " It would be a 
shameful relapse to keep only to ihe precepts after 
having already tried for a long time to follow the 
counsels. 

" It is a very cowardly relapse to yield without 
fighting solely through fear of the battle. 

"It is an unpardonable contempt of God s 
grace, which has for some time enabled me to 
walk without much difficulty in the way of his 
counsels. 

"How great an assurance of salvation is the 
way of the counsels ! For me to choose any other 
is like choosing perdition. 

" Do I owe less after the grace of so extraordi 
nary a conversion ? 

"Finally, I wish to follow the counsels because 
I love God and desire to serve him to my utmost. 

"I feel strength to do it, with the grace of our 
Lord. 

" I desire with all my heart, with all my mind, 
and with all my strength, to serve now and all the 
days of my life the Lord my God, my most merci 
ful, most amiable, and most sweet Saviour, by en 
deavoring, with the help of his holy grace, to imi 
tate him by showing the most entire docility to his 
counsels and inspirations. Amen. 
^ " This way of the counsels is the way of our Lord 



Saint- Acheul. m 331 

Jesus : Qui vult post me venire, abneget semetip- 
sum et tollat crucem suam." * 

To the second question : " Ought I to embrace 
the religious life, or remain in the world ? " he re 
plies : 

"The renunciation of my position is a little sa 
crifice ; I desire to offer ih to Almighty God. 

" The virtues are practised in the religious life ; 
in the world they are at the most only meditated. 

" Experience proves to me that for three years I 
have been daily going backwards. 

t( There are much greater dangers on shore. 

"Hereafter there will also be greater ones on 
shipboard, where I shall be engaged in more impor 
tant and honorable employments." 

In fact, Clerc, on his return from China, had 
been proposed for a command and for the Legion 
of Honor. The right moment for making a little 
sacrifice to God was precisely then ; later the sa 
crifice would doubtless have been something more, 
but to defer for that motive would have been to 
tempt God and to presume too much on his own 
strength. 

Other reasons for embracing the religious life : 

"Holy obedience, which I have poorly practised 
on shipboard, I desire that henceforth you should 
be my supreme ruler, and I hope to practise you 
better when I shall be under obligation to do so 
continually, because then you will be to me a strict 
law and not a work of supererogation. 

* If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and 
take up his cross (Matt. xvi. 24). 



33 2 Alexis Clerc. 

" The good example I may give the only plau 
sible reason they urge for my remaining in the 
world is greater by my abandoning all things for 
the sake of serving God better." 

Third question : " What order shall I enter ? " 

Reply : The Society of Jesus. 

"I believe it the best suited to procure my spiri 
tual profit. 

" It always employs each of its subjects to the 
greatest possible advantage, so as to give him the 
satisfaction of doing more for the glory of God 
than he could outside the Society. 

" It rightly calls itself the Society of Jesus, be 
cause its members live in the presence and in the 
society of Jesus, on whom they daily meditate. 

" It is justly called the Company of Jesus, be 
cause Jesus is the captain who leads it to combat, 
and because with him it suffers persecution and 
contempt. 

"Finally, I love the Society. 

"Accordingly, I desire to enter the Society of 
Jesus. 

" I would advise a man in my position, a stranger 
to me in all besides, to abandon everything and to 
enter the novitiate with the firm intention of after 
wards making his vows. 

" I desire to be able on the day of my death and 
on the Day of Judgment, to congratulate myself 
upon having this day forsaken the world for the 
Society of Jesus. A. CLEEC. 

" SAINT- ACHETJL, Feast of St. Augustine, 1854" 

" The thought of laboring for the glory of God 



Sa int-A cheul. 333 

by procuring the salvation of my neighbor has 
scarcely ever crossed my mind without moving my 
heart and inspiring me with zeal. I have most 
usually banished this thought as being not yet sea 
sonable, while at the same time finding pleasure in 
believing that it would be some day." 

How was it possible to resist such manifest signs 
of vocation and such persevering desires ? There 
fore the superiors resisted no longer, and that very 
day, the Feast of St. Augustine, the doors of the 
novitiate opened to Alexis. His youth had re 
sembled that of the Bishop of Hippo ; he promised 
himself to imitate that great penitent in the sin 
cerity of his conversion and the ardor of his chari 
ty. Dating from that 28th of August, he is no 
longer of the world, and he finds his chief delight 
in seeking to be forgotten. His discharge reached 
him towards the middle of September (it is dated 
the loth) ; he begged his brother to settle his lit 
tle business matters. The small sum of money that 
was still due him (doubtless the last payment of 
his officer s salary) he several times offered to his 
father ; Mr. Clerc, faithful to his threat of absolute 
estrangement, refused it. Alexis then offered it 
to the Society to indemnify it for the expenses it 
would incur on his account during his novitiate 
and studies. 

Here, then, begins a new life which has nothing 
striking about it, nothing exterior, a life hidden in 
G-od with Jesus Christ, so hidden that worldlings 
look upon it as a death, and it horrifies them like 
the tomb. No more voyages, no more distant expe- 



334 Alexis Clerc. 

ditions ; the uniform, which in France always enjoys 
such a prestige, replaced by a poor cassock that is 
to say, by a vesture which the world has little honor 
> for and does not always tolerate ; finally, occupa 
tions which recall to the religious the humility of 
Nazareth, but which for that same reason refuse to 
furnish matter for a detailed narrative ; wherefore, 
the Evangelists themselves employed only a few 
lines to relate the infancy and the first thirty years 
of the Saviour Jesus. 

Still, we are able to penetrate into Clerc s in 
terior, thanks to some private notes he preserved 
of his novitiate, and which contain his true history 
and the faithful portrait of his soul during that 
period. In addition to these, we have the recol 
lections of the persons who were then his compa 
nions, recollections that are necessarily very vague, 
since the humble novice took all the pains he 
could to efface himself, as ifc were, and succeeded 
admirably. 

The first trial he had to go through the first 
experiment) to use the language of the institute 
was to make the " Spiritual Exercises " of St. Igna 
tius during a space of thirty days ; to shut himself 
up, so to speak, after the example of the founder 
of the Society, in the grotto of Manresa, and there 
to consider his last end, his duties towards his 
Creator and his God, the enormity of sin and all 
the evils that follow it, the malice of the sinner, 
his own errors, the faults personal to him (Alexis) 
during the whole course of his life, and, as though 
this conversion was the first, to wash all his past 



Saint- Acheul. 335 

in the tears of a sincere contrition and in the wa 
ters of penance. But, after these meditations of 
the purgative life, which take up the first week, 
all the rest of the time is devoted to the contem 
plation and imitation of Jesus Christ. The dis 
ciple of St. Ignatius considers our amiable Saviour 
as his king and captain ; he responds to his call, 
ranges himself under his standard, and places his 
happiness and his pride in following him as closely 
as possible. Now, there are souls more or less va 
liant even among those who thus attach themselves 
to the Lord Jesus ; they embrace his cross with 
more or less fervor, they are more or less courage 
ous in throwing off the livery of the world to clothe 
themselves with that of a crucified God. It is in 
this that Clerc signalizes himself from the very 
first and shows himself brave among the brave. 
The greatest self-abnegation, continual mortifica 
tion such are the practical means proposed to 
those who are ambitious to rise to the holy folly 
of the cross. Abnegation, mortification, and espe 
cially continual abnegation, these words are harsh, 
and they terrify nature ; we can reconcile ourselves 
to the words and the thing only by a generous 
abandonment, an unreserved fidelity to the grace 
that urges us not to remain but half way. 

Let us see if Clerc was truly faithful, or if he 
capitulated with the enemy. There is still another 
election for him to make the choice of the degree 
of perfection which he desires to attain with the 
help of God s grace. 



336 Alexis Clerc. 

" I protest before the divine Majesty of God, be 
fore the Blessed Virgin and all the Heavenly Court, 
that I neither have nor desire to have in this elec 
tion any intention other than that of choosing 
what will be most pleasing to God, and most use 
ful to my perfection in the state to which grace has 
called me. 

" Feeling, and having several times felt, a most 
filial confidence in the goodness of God, who will 
aid me to accomplish what he counsels me, a most 
lively charity urging me to be generous towards 
God and to labor for my perfection with strength 
and ardor, and my soul finding in this disposition 
tranquillity and peace in God our Lord ; while the 
opposite disposition plunges my soul into darkness, 
trouble, low and gross attractions, disquietude of 
emotions and temptations ; while it casts mistrust 
upon my vocation, my perseverance therein and 
the graces God will grant me to persevere ; while 
it renders my soul idle, tepid and melancholy, and 
as though separated from Jesus Christ our Lord ; 
I desire literally, according to Eule 12, to seek 
in the Lord the greatest abnegation of myself, and, 
as far as I shall be able (that is, as far as possi 
ble) continual mortification in all things. 

"I understand by abnegation a perfect obedi 
ence, an entire sacrifice of my own opinions in my 
intercourse with my brethren, the desire not to dis 
tinguish myself in anything, a perfect obedience to 
and a perfect observance of Rule 13 : In exercen- 
dis, etc. . . si quidem injunctum fuerit ut in eis se 



Saint-Acheul. 337 

exerceat ; * which I shall beg the father master to 
be good enough to assign me. 

" I understand by continual mortification in all 
things the uninterrupted suffering of the body in 
some part and in all manners : therefore, to wear 
the chain constantly, to fast without intermission 
and to do violence to my taste, to sleep on the floor 
and all dressed or on a plank in my bed, to take the 
discipline every day at least during an Ave, and more 
if I feel the devotion up to as many as three with 
out asking special permission. This is what I de 
sire to do and without retrenching anything of it, 
with God s grace and the father master s permis 
sion, in spite of the revolts of the flesh and the ar 
tifices of the devil. 

"Moreover, knowing by experience that my con 
science reproaches me for all relaxations of mortifi 
cation, to do less would be to turn a deaf ear to 
grace ; grace will accomplish what certainly I alone 
would not dare to undertake, nor even to propose 
to myself. 

" Having then prayed to our Lord Jesus Christ 
with all my heart, I consider : 

" 1. All that the masters of the spiritual life say 
in general about mortification. 

" 2. That it is especially recommended in the be 
ginning of the religious life. 

" 3. That I, more than any one else, have need 
of it to wash away my past sins. 

*This Rule 13 regards the exercise of lowly and humi 
liating employments, and is the one wherein St. Ignatius 
counsels his children to seek with most eagerness those that 
are most repugnant to nature. 



338 Alexis Clerc. 

"4. That it is a duty of gratitude for benefits as 
great as they are unmerited. 

" 5. That it is the best way of imitating our 
Lord. 

" 6. That it is, according to Rule 12, the 
best means of attaining to that love of contempt 
and that horror of the world which is the spirit of 
the Society. 

"7. That if a single thing be granted to sen 
suality, my soul will instantly take advantage of it ; 
that, consequently, my mortification must be con 
tinual and in all things. 

" Besides, there is nothing inconvenient in this 
regime. 1. Because I am sufficiently robust. 2. 
Because it contains nothing in itself that can in 
jure the health. 3. Because, having neither charge 
nor employment in the novitiate, I can endure 
some discomfort without inconvenience. 

" 8. That this mortification will help me very 
much to attain abnegation which is more difficult. 

" 9. That is enables one to attain almost at once 
to the practice of Rule 29. 

" 10. That the declaration of Jesus to religious 
is formal : f Qui milt post me venire, dbneget seme- 
tipsum et tollat crucem suam. "* 

Behold the crucified life which Clerc joyfully 
embraces for the love of Jesus Christ ! With a 
matchless sincerity towards God and towards him 
self, he declares war to the death against self-love, 
and at the first blow cuts himself off from the 

* "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and 
take up his cross. "(Luke ix. 23). 



Saint-Acheul. 339^ 

slightest satisfactions, so as to leave nature no 
hope. This is not all : in order to make more 
sure of himself in this difficult enterprise, and to 
in some sort constrain himself to the execution of 
these heroic resolutions, he will engage himself by 
a vow; but, joining prudence to generosity, he will 
make only a temporary vow which he will renew 
every month, the whole, be it well understood, 
with the approbation of his superior and spiritual 
director, the master of novices. 

"Thou knowest, my God/ he writes in his jour 
nal, " that I have the intention of engaging my 
self by a vow made on the first Friday of each 
month, to follow during that month the rule of 
mortification that shall be definitely approved by 
the father master. I offer these mortifications to 
thee, to thy Sacred Heart encircled with thorns 
and pierced with a lance, to the Immaculate Heart 
transfixed with a sword of sorrow of Mary, thy 
holy Mother. I pray thee, if thou dost accept this 
offering, to make me feel a lively compassion for 
thy passion, a deep hatred of my sins, and a great 
love for thy infinite goodness." 

His prayer is heard, and in proportion as he me 
ditates on the passion of the Saviour Jesus he feels 
growing with his love his desire of resembling that 
Saviour in all things in his agony and abandon 
ment, in his meek endurance of the rage let loose 
against him, in his abasement and opprobriums. 

" Jesus before Herod. Resolved to ask of Jesus 
neither a miracle, nor a singular grace, nor rare 
consolations, nor a new state of soul. These are 



34O Alexis Clerc. 

only desires springing from curiosity, sensuality, 
and pride. I ask, Jesus ! to combat these three 
concupiscences, and to receive thy graces and fa 
vors in order to love and serve thee better. 

" Resolved not to speak to satisfy my own curi 
osity nor a vain curiosity in others ; to clothe my 
self with the white robe of Herod, to be the play 
thing of his whole band. 

" my God ! we cannot strike down our pride 
except by humiliations ; therefore send them to 
thy proud servant. Order that in spite of all his 
pains he may make a ridiculous Exemplum, and 
that he may be covered with confusion. And let 
it be the same for the Toni.* Give me only the 
grace to profit by thy fatherly lessons. Jesus ! 
let me always look upon thee clothed with that 
white robe, thine eyes cast down, and thy lips pre 
serving an unbroken silence." 

Here is how he converses the following day with 
Jesus condemned to death : 

"How far wilt thou follow me and imitate me ? 
How many strokes of the scourge art thou willing 
to receive for my sake ? Wilt thou also be bound 
and despoiled of thy garments ? "Wilt thou go so 
far as to shed a few drops of blood ? How many ? 
Wilt thou clothe thyself with the purple mantle ? 
Dost thou desire also to feel some thorns of my 
crown ? I desire, Jesus ! to go as far as thou 
wilt call me. I have no wish to turn aside a single 



* The Toni, as well as the Exemplum Marianum (preaching 
on some example relating to the devotion to Mary), are ora 
torical exercises customary in the novitiates. 



Saint-AcheuL ( 341 

stroke nor to avoid a single thorn thou dost destine 
for me. I desire to suffer and to be humbled for 
thee as much as is thy will. Thou dost give 
strength to do what thou dost ask, therefore I beg 
thee to ask a great deal of me. Oh ! to suffer for 
thee, my Jesus, to be covered with opprobrium for 
thy sake, but to love thee ! Behold my happiness. 
To love thee, to love thee ! Give me to love thee, 
and then do with me what thou wilt. Amorem 
tui solum cum gratia tua milii dones, et dives sum 
satis, nee aliud quidquam ultra posco. " * 

After he has so generously taken part in the 
mysteries of the passion and death of the Saviour 
of men, Jesus crowns his desires, and with an in 
finite sweetness permits him to share all the joys 
of his glorious resurrection. 

" Lovest thou me ? " These words which Jesus, 
come forth from the tomb, addresses to St. Peter, 
he also hears them, he replies to them ; and, Jesus 
again speaking to him, there is another loving dia 
logue between the faithful disciple and the well 
beloved of his heart. 

" Lovest thou me ? Lord ! I owe thee my 
life, my preservation, the light of my reason, my 
faith, my baptism, my pardon after ten thousand 
mortal offences, my vocation, and still more, thy 
love which completely embraces me. Oh ! yes, 
Lord, I love thee ; I call thee to witness that I 
love thee. Thou knowest that I love thee, thou 

*"Give me only thy love and thy grace, and I am rich 
enough and ask forjnothing more." Words of the "Suscipe," a 
prayer of St. Ignatius. 



34 2 Alexis Clerc. 

who knowest all things. And as reparation for sg 
many crimes, dost thou exact only this testimony of 
my love ? Alas ! my God, why is it that I cannot 
love thee more ? But if it he true that to love is 
to wish to love, my Lord ! then, truly, I love 
thee, for I wish to love thee with all my soul, with 
all my strength, and with all my heart. I do not 
want to have a thought, an intention, a power, an 
affection in my being that is not thine and for 
thee. Is it possible that thou art so good as to be 
so anxious for the love of such a miserable crea 
ture, and that thou hast done so much to gain his 
love ? What advantage dost thou draw from it ? 
Only thy love. This is the last, the highest mark 
of thy love, Lord, that thou dost desire nothing 
else but my love ! But it is not all yet : as the 
price of my love thou dost give me to feed thy 
lambs, and thou art pleased to clothe me with the 
priesthood that is to say, I am to be raised even 
to that sublime dignity of performing acts which are 
all divine, such as consecrating and absolving. And 
if I love thee, thou wilt come into me, and by me 
and with me continue thy mediation, thy redemp 
tion, and thy omnipotent and glorious holocaust.: 
Silence. Consume my heart with thy love. What 
a question ! Lovest thou me 9 

Such were Clerc s sentiments at the close of his 
long retreat made at Saint-Acheul under the di 
rection of Father Mallet in December, 1854. His 
whole novitiate was the putting in practice of the 
resolution he took at the commencement, and we 
know from good authority that if later in the eol- 



Saint- AcheuL 343 

leges where he had to spend his strength in all 
varieties of employment, he was not permitted 
that frequent use of exterior mortification, he 
never ceased to treat his body with extreme se 
verity. 

The house of Saint-Acheul, before the first re 
volution an abbey of Genovevans (Regular Canons 
of St. Genevieve attached to the adjoining old ca 
thedral), and from 1814 to 1828 a celebrated and 
flourishing college, was after many vicissitudes be 
come one of the most important establishments be 
longing to the Society in France, and it then 
counted, as it does now, three distinct communities 
united under the authority of one superior, and 
forming in reality only one great family composed 
of resident fathers, juvenists, and novices. The 
resident fathers were occupied with the duties of 
the sacred ministry, being confessors, preachers, 
and missionaries in the neighboring towns and 
rural districts; some, advanced in years or bur 
dened with infirmities, limited themselves to 
preaching by example, and nobody, whatever they 
themselves might say and think about it, regarded 
those invalids of the apostolate as useless servants. 
The juvenists, or young scholastics recently come 
from the novitiate, were prepared by a year or two 
of rhetoric for teaching grammar and belles-lettres 
in the colleges ; they were older than the novices, 
if not always in years, at least by seniority in the 
religious life. Finally, the novices, to the number 
of fifty, of whom from thirty to forty were priests 
or scholastics and the rest coadjutor brothers, made 



344 Alexis Clerc. 

under a special direction the first apprenticeship 
to the duties of their vocation ; in that large fami 
ly they held the place of children ; but they were 
not, as may "be readily supposed, spoiled children, 
although they were the objects of the tenderest in 
terest and the most paternal solicitude. The Latin 
language has a charming word, repuerascere, to be 
come a child again ; the word is in Cicero, but the 
thing is met only among Christians, and it is espe 
cially in novitiates that it is seen to flourish and 
prosper. Happy childhood of the soul that with 
docility abandons itself to all the inspirations of 
grace, to the good pleasure of God manifested to 
it by the voice of superiors ! Amiable simplicity ! 
Innocence regained and ceaselessly rejuvenated in 
the blood of the Divine Lamb ! And with that the 
joy, the inmost satisfaction of heart, which is the 
pledge and foretaste of the happiness of heaven ! 
Oh ! ho\v well one then understands the words of 
the Divine Master presenting little children to his 
disciples : " The kingdom of heaven is for such 
as these " (Matt, xix. 14). 

Clerc found in the novitiate all he had sought 
for so long, and he there practised freely, from 
morning to night, the religious virtues for which 
he hungered and thirsted poverty, chastity, obe 
dience, mortification of the senses, recollection in 
God, forgetf ulncss and annihilation of self in order 
to be closely united to God. When he wished to 
humble and abase himself, opportunities were not 
wanting, and he seized them with the eagerness of 
a miser who has discovered a treasure. Although 



Saint -AcheuL 345 

meditation and spiritual reading fill the largest 
place in the novice s daily regulation, there is also 
once or twice a day a considerable time reserved 
for manual labors sweeping the dormitories and 
corridors, scrubbing the house from top to bottom, 
aiding the coadjutor brothers in the domestic 
offices, the refectory, the infirmary, the kitchen, 
etc. Behold, certainly, in a numerous community 
a rich field for the exercise of lowly and humiliating 
employments, and when one well knows how to 
cultivate it, as did our humble and fervent novice, 
he finds a new harvest to reap every day. 

One of his fellow-novices writes us the follow 
ing: "I remember the novitiate was greatly 
edified at seeing that naval officer as simple and 
fervent as any one else, if not more so. One day 
in particular he gave me a sort of admiring sur 
prise when he hurried to our admonitor* and re 
quested as a favor to be named for a work of 
the most ungrateful and humble description. If I 
remember right, a pouring rain had inundated a 
dark and foul hole ; it was necessary to wade in 
the dirty water, soak it up, etc. The lieutenant 
considered the unpleasant job as belonging quite 
naturally to him, and he solicited the appointment 
with a thorough juvenile ardor which but partial 
ly concealed an intense desire of humiliation." 

One of his room-mates (for each novice does not 
have a room to himself) discovered one night the 
secret of one of his sufferings which did not enter 

* The brother charged with distributing the employments 
to the other novices. 



346 Alexis Clerc. 

into the programme of mortifications he had 
written out during his retreat. Having heard a 
groan that was evidently forced from him by pain, 
the novice interrogated him, and Clerc, pressed by 
questions, was obliged to explain and confess that 
his trouble was already of long standing, for he 
had contracted it at college. Falling backwards 
in some violent exercise, he had received a large 
wound which had never perfectly healed, and in 
which there were still splinters of bone. When he 
felt them at the surface he did not apply to the 
surgeon or the infirmarian, but extracted them 
himself as well as he could ; in that way he had 
not much to do in order to suffer constantly, ac 
cording to his resolution, in some part of his 
body. 

There is but one voice about his gaiety, his good 
humor, the charm of his society, and the affability 
of his character natural qualities always notice 
able in him, but purified, ennobled, and perfected 
by grace. 

The more clear-sighted saw therein an abundant 
source of merits and the proof of the strong hand 
with which he ruled himself; for that peace he 
visibly enjoyed, and which was reflected from his 
whole person, was the price of his victories. 
, " In thinking of him," we are told by one who at 
that time observed him closely,* " 1 am reminded 
jof the robust gaiety, robustam alacritatem, Father 
Sacchini speaks of somewhere, and which renders 

* This witness was the socius, or assistant of the master of 
nov?ces, and presided at some of the exercises of the novitiate. 



Saint-Acheul. 347 

its possessor capable of taking very powerful 
doses of penance and humiliation." 

It was indeed so : the happiness of belonging 
unreservedly to God, the intoxication of the sacri 
fice, was the principle of that charming gaiety, of 
that uniform amiability, assisted, besides, by choice 
mental gifts and by the resources of a memory 
adorned with a great variety of knowledge. But 
whoever could have penetrated into his interior 
would soon have discovered that that joy, while 
being most genuine and unaffected, was not in 
compatible with suffering, and would have been 
led to admire still more that constant serenity by 
learning that Clerc bore in his heart an open 
and always bleeding wound, ever since the day his 
father had sworn to have nothing i common with 
him so long as he should see him remaining in the 
Society. 

Clerc wrote to his father several times from the 
novitiate of Saint-Acheul ; he never received a 
reply; it appears his letters were not read or 
even opened ; the multiplied testimonies of his 
filial tenderness seemed to be scorned and set at 
naught. When he found that all his efforts at re 
conciliation were a dead loss, he wrote no more, 
and contented himself with praying and mourning 
in silence. 

But now his silence is complained of. Still 
more, a communication is made to Father do 
Ravignan, who, persuaded that Clerc is in fault, 
and has undertaken to treat his father stiffly, 
writes to the father master that he highly dis- 



348 Alexis Clerc. 

approves of such a course, and that Alexis would 
do well to show himself more affectionate for the 
future. 

When the contents of Father cle Ravignan s 
letter were communicated to him, Clerc experienced 
a sudden joy, believing it all meant a revival of 
paternal tenderness. But the illusion was of short 
duration. A new letter of the novice addressed to 
Mr. Clerc had the same fate as the preceding ones. 
Not knowing what to think nor what to decide, 
Alexis finally had recourse to his brother for an ex 
planation. In order not to aggravate the situation, 
he again takes rather a playful" tone. What must 
he not have suffered when he received but another 
proof of the uselessness of his efforts and of the 
inflexibility of his father, who was still resolved to 
repel his advances and to refuse him the most or 
dinary marks of interest and sympathy ? 

" Here, now," he writes to his brother, May 6, 
1855, " is an enigma which I propose to your sa 
gacity. I am a subject of scandal in the Society. 
If this were because I am what I am, very imper 
fect and a bad example, there would be nothing 
wonderful in it, and you could have soon guessed 
that I am almost exactly the same that you have 
known me. But it is for quite another reason : I 
am a bad son ; I never write to my father, and, 
behold, good souls say that the Jesuits destroy even 
filial love. Finally the story, through whom and 
how I know nothing at all, reaches Father de Ra- 
vignan ; he writes to the reverend father master, 
and I am called on to explain myself but I was 



Saint- Acheul. 349 

not clever enough for that. At last, I figure to 
myself that my prayers have worked a miracle, and 
that paternal tenderness read in secret the letters 
it did not open before the world. Immediately I 
write in my finest handwriting the letter whose 
sad fate you have related to me. So the poor little 
thing passed in its integrity into the wastepaper- 
basket, and I am again living in hopes. 

" What is to be done ? Is it credible, as Father 
de Ravignan writes, that our father complains of 
my silence when it is he who will not listen to me ? 
And where can I discover the author of the tale ? 
At all events, I tell you about it so as to explain 
my letter, and so that you may set the facts right 
if need be." 

The matter was soon explained ; it was not Mr. 
Clerc who had complained of the silence the novice 
of Saint- Acheul observed towards his family, but 
Alexis sister-in-law, Madame Jules Clerc, and her 
remarks being heard by a friend of Alexis child 
hood, Alexander (whom we have elsewhere called 
Mr. de S . . .), then officiously reported to Father de 
Ravignan, with whom Alexander was intimately 
acquainted, had produced that imbroglio to the in 
nocent authors of which Clerc graciously granted 
a full amnesty. 

" Well, it is you, little sister," he wrote when he 
had at last solved the enigma, " it is you who are 
the artisan of this letter business. If you had not 
had the simplicity to acknowledge it, I should 
never have guessed it. However, be assured I 
have not been vexed with anybody, and, on the con- 



350 Alexis Clerc. 

trary, as I believe I wrote Jules, I had for the time 
a great joy, imagining that my letters would give 
my father pleasure and that it would be in my 
power to be agreeable to him in something. 

"The part of the affair which I admire most 
is the good faith of Alexander, who believes you 
quite simply without making any allowance for 
the little exaggerations sanctioned by custom, and 
then goes seriously to relate the story to Father de 
Kavignan, as if he could not just as well have 
written it to me himself. Perhaps you wanted to 
have me scolded ? Very well ! to punish your 
malice, let me inform you that I was not." 

Always ready to pour out his heart to his brother 
Jules, Alexis did not weary of talking to him about 
the happiness of his vocation: "I will tell yon 
that, for myself, time passes with incredible rapidi 
ty, and that it is only by consulting the almanac 
that I can believe it will soon be eleven months 
since I came to this house of benediction. 
happy time ! Would I ever have thought that I 
could become young again with the young ? How 
can I ever be sufficiently thankful to God for the 
grace of so beautiful a vocation?" 

Clerc, aged thirty-six years, was almost the dean 
of the novitiate; with the exception of two or 
three priests who were his seniors by a very little, 
all counted twelve, fifteen, or eighteen years less 
than he. His voyages added to his experience ; he 
was a Nestor in that youthful world, but a Nestor 
who yielded to none in good humor and frank 
gaiety. A delightful conversationalist, they loved 



Saint- Acheul. 351 

to make him talk, and he was never at a loss for 
matter. As the fable says : 

" Quiconque a beaucoup vu 
Peut avoir beaucoup retenu." * 

Who had seen more than he ? He had seen the 
inside of things, had been an acute observer, and 
had forgotten nothing, for he was endowed with a 
most excellent memory. Such a one is a great re 
source in the recreations of a novitiate, where the 
world s noises do not penetrate and where the news 
papers are not read. With him one could at will 
visit India, Oceanica, and better still, China. 
China ! it was the Society itself, it was the family 
that one found there. In the mission Clerc had 
visited how many missionaries there were who had 
come from that same novitiate of Saint- Acheul, and 
in whose footsteps each novice was burning to walk ! 
Bui! in those conversations, which procured his 
brothers a very innocent amusement, Clerc feared 
there might be for him a hidden danger; his 
humility was alarmed at the role, modest as it 
was, which he had to assume when he thus con 
tributed to the recreations his souvenirs of his 
sailor life. 

He reflected upon it seriously during the retreat 
he made at the close of his first year of novitiate; 
he examined himself, and doubtless found matter 
for reform. He put the following resolutions in 
writing. 

* Whoever has seen much has had the power of remembering 
much. 



35 2 Alexis Clerc. 

"Resolutions: To keep myself in the back 
ground ; to keep my things and papers in order. 

" Under the first head I see five points for par 
ticular examination : 

"1. Not to be the first to speak of myself, and if 
it is not possible to avoid relating some story, to 
endeavor not to exhibit myself as an important actor, 
but rather to lose myself among the other person 
ages. 

" 2. Not to draw others to talk about it and to 
make me talk about it. 

" 3. To gently give way for others to display 
their wit. 

"4. To speak in a moderate tone and with few 
gestures, without trying too much to speak well 
and to pass for a lively and agreeable talker. 

" 5. To refrain from some witty sayings which 
would be very apropos." 

More than once his thoughts turn to China, 
where he had witnessed such great examples of ab 
negation, and where it seems to him splendid op 
portunities for self-annihilation are offered to the 
missionary. 

" Our Lord will teach me to endure the cold 
and the hardships of all kinds and not to com 
plain. The Word is made a child, infans Deum 
infantem. . . . Oh ! that I might for thy sake, 
Jesus, go there to stammer Chinese instead of 
the language I speak with so much vanity ! 

" Thou dost not let me feel, Lord ! the wound 
of the triple sword. There is a poverty that can 
be carried so far as to die of want, like Father 



Samt-Ackeut 353 

Rene Massa,* and there is a spiritual poverty of 
praises, honors. . . . Poverty is the renunciation of 
all exterior goods ; by it I offer everything to God. 

" Chastity is the immolation of the body. I know 
well it cannot exist without that immolation. It is, 
among other definitions, the continual observance 
of the rules of modesty ; these are a prison for us, 
an impregnable fortress for a precious treasure. 

" Obedience, it shall be that of the judgment, to 
the point where God has so lovingly put me to the 
test to practise it, and where I have so greatly 
failed. 

" I desire all this coldly. Jesus ! inspire me 
with the sentiments of thy Sacred Heart, that I 
may perfectly make a perfect offering." 

And so as to truly feel the wound of the triple 
sword, as he expressed it, he asked, and to all ap 
pearances obtained permission to pronounce the 
three vows of devotion, the vows of poverty, chas 
tity, and obedience, on the 9th of September, 1855, 
the feast of Blessed Peter Claver of the Society of 
Jesus. 

When we see him thus reproaching himself so 
earnestly for being inclined to put himself forward 
in conversation, and for talking of his exploits and 
achievements, one is led to ask if this fault was 
really very prominent in him, and if it was a mat 
ter in which he had ample room for reform. An 
opportunity of gaining light on this point present- 

* See* in Chapter IX. the details of the death of Father 
Rene" Massa, missionary of Kiang-nan. Clerc, who was then 
in Shanghai, had been among the first to hear them. 



354 Alexis Clerc. 

ed itself without any of our seeking, and we now 
know how much to believe of his self-accusations. 
At Saint-Acheul Clerc made his kitchen experiment 
under a brother cook who is still living, and of 
whom we ourselves have an excellent recollection. 
To explain to the profane a language they are un 
familiar with, we will state quite simply that 
Clerc, like all the other novices, was for an entire 
month assistant cook, and as such occupied from 
morning to night under the orders of the head 
cook, leading meanwhile the life of the lay 
brothers. Questioning about the dear and vene 
rated novice the first witnesses of his religious life, 
of whom the number has singularly decreased since 
1855, we naturally addressed ourselves to this 
brother cook, and to refresh his memory we said 
to him : "It wasn t every day that you had lieu 
tenants subject to your orders ? " 

Would the reader ever guess the good brother s 
reply ? We will content ourselves with repeating : 
" What I remember about Father Clerc is having 
seen him make indelible ink for marking the linen 
and show the wardrobe-keeper how to use it, and 
all with the best grace in the world and without 
any pretension. His care to be unnoticed was pre 
cisely what most astonished me when, long after he 
had left Saint-Acheul, I learned what he had been 
in the world ; to the best of my recollection not a 
single word about navigation escaped him." 

Thus, for an entire month, living with those 
good brothers, spending with them the hours of 
recreation, when, through a very natural deference 



Saint-Acheul. 



355 



they left the honors of the conversation to him, he 
was sufficiently master of himself to refrain from 
the least expression which might cause his com 
panions to suspect what he had been in the world ; 
and, if he had to speak of the China mission some 
times, as is likely enough, nothing betrayed that 
he had seen with his own eyes what he related, nor 
that he had ever worn the epaulet of an officer of 
the navy. 

Now we are, thank God, sufficiently enlightened 
regarding his foolish vanity, and his incurable de 
sire to be noticed. 



CHAPTEK XL 

VAUGIRARD THE SCHOOL SAINTE GENEVIEVE LAVAL. 

WE may believe that after sucli a novitiate Clerc 
had laid the foundations of a solid and perfected 
virtue. The Society had not completed its work of 
forming him, but it could begin to require some 
services of him. At the commencement of the 
scholastic year 1855-1856 he was sent to the College 
of the Immaculate Conception at Vaugirard to 
perform the duties of surveillant, at the same time 
that he prepared himself by following a comple- 
mental course to undergo an examination in all the 
branches of philosophy. 

It was his apprenticeship to his college life, his 
debut in the great work of education to which he 
was to consecrate eight more years. Of the four 
teen years of life that remained to him, he passed 
nine in the colleges; add to these four years of 
theology (1861-1865), and that second novitiate of 
a year which we call the third probation (1869), 
you will have the epitome of his religious life, and 
you can count all the marches of the obscure and 
laborious route by which he ascended to the height 
of his heroic and glorious sacrifice. 

That great art of effacing himself, which he had 
856 



Vaugirard. 357 

teamed in the novitiate, and of which he was already 
an accomplished master, did not abandon him dur 
ing all those years ; and although it in nowise en 
croached upon the originality of his character, still 
it is easy to understand that the task of the bio 
grapher whose hero hides himself as much as 
possible is singularly simplified. 

Let not the reader be alarmed ; we shall invent 
nothing to make up for our penury, and the la- 
conism it imposes upon us is of itself eloquent 
enough to prevent us from having any desire to 
remedy it. In addition, the interior fire with 
which we have seen him burning during his re 
treats bursts out on certain occasions a id casts a 
bright light here and there. This is amp y suf 
ficient to complete our information on ;i subject 
wherein there is no question of satisfying a vn n 
curiosity, but of responding to the pious interest 
that attaches to the intimate knowledge of a beau 
tiful and holy soul. 

A venerable religious, vho was Clerc s spiritual 
guide and the depositary of the secrets of his con 
science during the single year he passed at the 
College of Vaugirard, furnishes us this portrait 
from life which reproduces especially the interior 
physiognomy of our beloved brother : " Father 
Alexis Clerc was beloved by God and men. God 
was to him a tender and merciful Father, a kind 
and devoted Friend. He had no other ideas of his 
God. Therefore his prayers were usually a filial 
conversation with him, a pouring out of love and 
gratitude. His happiness in loving our Lord and 



358 Alexis Clerc. 

being loved by him was reflected on his counte 
nance and gave him an expression of sweet and 
calm joy. Thence, also that is, from his relations 
, with God sprang his charity and zeal for men. 
His whole life, like that of his Divine Master, was 
spent in doing good. To sacrifice himself, to ren 
der service to others, to teach his pupils, to con 
sole the unhappy, to convert sinners, to awaken 
repentance in their hearts and give them peace of 
conscience these were his delights. All who 
came in contact with him felt at their ease, and 
their hearts dilated ; they loved him because he 
himself loved much, for an ardent love of G-od 
had added a new warmth to the natural kindness of 
his heart and the frank loyalty of his character." 

This portrait seems to us perfectly truthful, par 
ticularly where it depicts that powerful attraction 
Clerc exercised over souls, that gift of winning love 
by loving much himself, and all for the greater 
spiritual good of his neighbor and the greater glory 
of God, which he never lost sight of. We can 
testify that it is he exactly, just such as we knew 
him, such as he lingers in the memory of those 
who had the happiness of living with him. 

Of course Clerc was not allowed to continue in 
his college life all the mortifications he had im 
posed upon himself in the novitiate ; he had to 
give up, among others, sleeping upon a board, arid 
he was directed to be more saving of his strength, 
which he would need for the studies he must pur 
sue on his own account, and for the humble duties 
with which he was charged among the pupils. He 



Vaugirard. 359 

compensated- for this by other victories over him 
self, and always treated rudely enough, cavalierly 
enough, if I may dare so to speak, his poor body 
which he had for a long while held in slavery. 

His residence at Vaugirard brought him nearer 
to his family, and he saw the dearest of his wishes 
realized in the watchful and devoted affection that 
surrounded his father s old age. Yet even in this, 
doubtless joy was not always unmixed. Accord 
ing to a beautiful thought of St. Chrysostom, God 
is pleased to mingle blessings and ills in the lives 
of the just, and thus he forms a woof of admirable 
variety. * 

While Clerc was at Saint-Acheul a son had been 
born to liis brother Jules and named Alexis after 
his uncle, and the brightest hopes were already 
founded upon the little creature. But God had 
only lent the babe. He took it back, scarcely al 
lowing him whose name it would have perpetuated 
in the family time to smile upon it once or twice. 
Uncle Alexis, who fortunately had Christian hearts 
to deal with, hastened to dry the tears that flowed 
for the loss of that dear first-born. t( My dear and 
good Jules," he wrote, "I know how deep is a 
father s affection, and I sympathize with the great 
sorrow you feel for the loss of that beautiful child. 
Parents do not measure their love by the qualities of 
their children ; still the loss qf those that are the 
most promising is more to be regretted. I was able 
to judge myself that Alexis promised a great deal. 

* Turn de adyersis, turn ex prosperis, justomm vitam quasi 
admirabili varietate contexit. 



360 Alexis Clerc. 

" Faith, which does not permit us to doubt of the 
sovereign and eternal happiness already possessed 
by that dear little soul, is the only motive of con 
solation I can offer to its parents. May your hearts 
find therein, if not full consolation, at least some 
alleviation." 

Who would not have thought that Mr. Clerc, 
pleased at having his son so near him, would have 
reconciled himself to a vocation which did not 
make it necessary for them to be separated ? If 
Alexis had been captain of a frigate, he would 
probably have spent the years he passed at Vau- 
girard or Paris in sailing over the seas, in visiting 
anew Africa, China, or Ocoanica, and who knows 
if he would ever have seen his father again ? But 
no ! the father could not bo persuaded to see the 
son a Jesuit, and, cruel to himself, he went so far 
as to refuse, when it was offered him, the solace of 
the son s presence. A letter from Alexis to his 
brother reveals this painful situation to us. He 
wrote from Vaugirard December 29, 1856 : " My 
good Jules, will you ask our father if he will allow 
me to embrace him on New Year s day, and, in case 
he consents, let me know the hour when it will be 
most convenient to you to have me call ? Also, in 
case my request should not be granted, do not 
neglect to inform me how you purpose spending 
that day, so that if possible I may pay you my 
humble respects as younger brother. . . ." 

Let us anticipate some years, so as to drain this 
chalice to the dregs. 

Ordained priest in the course of September, 



Vaugirard. 361 

1859, Father Clerc was to celebrate his first Mass 
on the 26th of that month in the public chapel of 
the School Sainte-Genevieve. He wrote his father 
a letter dictated by the liveliest faith, but at the 
same time glowing with his filial tenderness : 

"I beg you most earnestly, my dear father, not 
to be absent, so that you may all be united at the 
foot of the altar where I shall have the incompre 
hensible honor of offering to God omnipotent his 
only Son, like himself God omnipotent, an obla 
tion infinitely pleasing to the Father and the 
source of all the graces he bestows upon men ; the 
honor of immolating the Victim that satisfies for 
the sins of the world, of renewing the sacrifice of 
our Lord Jesus Christ on Calvary. He it is who 
is the reconciliation of God with sinners. There 
is no debt, no offence which God does not remit to 
him who presents as satisfaction and reparation 
the blood of Jesus Christ, who has made himself 
our bondsman. Can you turn away your eyes from 
the proof of this which he offers you a proof so 
well suited to touch your heart, since it is in your 
son that he causes the munificence of his pardons 
to be displayed ? Will you not see the signal honor 
to which he raises me ? After having drawn me 
from the shame and abasement of sin, he places 
me among the princes of his people. God is more 
jealous, more proud of his mercy than of his other 
attributes ; he wants to show you how he propor 
tions his graces to our needs. 

" Come and adore our Lord Jesus Christ repos 
ing in my hands; the good Jesus, after having ex- 



362 Alexis Clerc? 

hausted his blood in suffering for us, could only 
satisfy his love by giving himself to us, in a man 
ner as perfect as it is wonderful, in the Holy 
Eucharist. 

" Come, my dear father, and receive the first 
blessing from my hands ; come and witness the 
grandeur, the majesty of the religion that without 
humiliating the father enables the son to bless 
him. 

" It is to me a need and a duty of gratitude and 
love to invite you to these heavenly joys, and to 
communicate to you the first fruits of the graces 
and benedictions G-od wills to shed abroad by my 
hands. May you one day be filled with them ! 

"I conjure you yet once more, my dear father, 
to give to this august and solemn festival the com 
pletion, necessary to my heart, of your presence." 

Undoubtedly Mr. Clerc was moved while read 
ing these words, full of an emotion proceeding from 
the innermost depths of a soul that had not ceased 
to be dear to him. Nevertheless he stood firm 
and resisted the inspirations of his own heart. 
He did not attend the first Mass of his son. 

Clerc was no longer in Paris, but in our house 
of Laval, pursuing his theology, when his father 
died, December 30, 1863. The old man, who sank 
insensibly, without, however, having in anything 
altered his habits, had expired without any crisis, 
without any agony, with none of his children near 
him, and in a way so unexpected that no priest 
assisted at his last hour. Alexis grief was mute ; 
it was long since the measure of it had been full, 



Vaugirard. 363 

and his soul had not dared to hope. He could not 
prevent himself from reflecting painfully upon the 
causes, unfortunately too common, which had 
kept the eyes of his worthy father closed to the 
light of Christianity. Later, doubtless, what he 
learned from the lips of his brother tempered the 
cruel bitterness of his first regrets. Mr. Olerc had 
only apparently persevered in his insensibility to 
the truths of faith ; with time and under the in 
fluence of pious family examples that haughty 
courage had weakened, and towards his last days 
he prayed ; they heard him reciting earnestly and 
in impressive tones, dwelling upon each petition, 
the Lord s Prayer. How can we believe that grace, 
without which it is impossible to invoke the Lord 
Jesus, was a stranger to those sentiments border 
ing so closely on the avowal and repentance that 
call for pardon ? 

On the occasion of a still more sudden and far 
otherwise alarming death,* had not Father de 
Kavignan said : "We are unable to penetrate the 
secrets of divine mercy; we can neither know nor 
affirm what passes in the last moments of a cruel 
and mysterious agony ; but Christians, living un 
der the law of hope no less than under that of 
faith and love, we ought constantly to rise from 
the depths of our griefs to the thought of the in 
finite goodness of the Saviour. Here below there 
is no limit, no impossibility between grace and the 

* That of the Duke of Orleans, the eldest son of King Louis 
Philippe. See the " Life o Father de Ravigcan," by Father 
A. de Ponlevoy, Paris, 1860, vol. i. p. 244. 



364 Alexis Clerc. 

soul so long as there remains a breath of life. . . 
We shall one day become acquainted with those 
ineffable wonders of divine mercy ; we must 
never cease to implore it with profound confi 
dence. 

Clerc must have found motives of consolation 
and hope in these words of his holy friend. We 
have others, we who now know what God reserved 
for him himself. Before the tribunal of that great 
God, to whom all things are eternally present, and 
who considers what is not yet as though it were, 
the blood of the son already cried for mercy for the 
father. 

On the 1st of January of the following year, 
after having offered the Holy Sacrifice for the soul 
of his poor father, Alexis, addressing his New 
Year s wishes to his brother and sister-in-law, ex 
pressed his deep gratitude to them for the affec 
tionate care they had lavished on the old man in 
his last days, and for the sacrifices they had had to 
make to his humor, his tastes, and still more to 
his opinions. "May God reward," he said, in 
speaking of his sister-in-law, " the extreme gentle 
ness she has not ceased to show since she entered 
our family ! I believe that lie: children, the source 
of so sweet a happiness, are 1he sure token that 
God has accepted so many concessions made to the 
love of peace. Ah ! well, then, 

Princesse, en qui le del mit un esprit si doux, * 

raise those dear little treasures, a sweet and 
* Princess to whom Heaven has given so sweet a soul. 



School Saint e-Genevieve. 365 

frail hope/ in the love of Jesus Christ and of 
the Blessed Virgin. If we had not, your husband 
and I, learned the truths of faith at the knees of a 
woman who was also very gentle and yery Chris 
tian, after years of forgetfulness, the grace of God 
might perhaps have knocked in vain at the door of 
our hearts, and you would not to-day have near 
yours that upright, loyal, pure, strong heart which 
you know how to understand and love." 

Let us now retrace our steps. We have not been 
willing to separate these pages that show us in 
Alexis the good son and the good brother ; but 
they aie posterior in date to the point where we 
left his biography that is, to the scholastic year 
1856-1857, which he spent entirely at the College 
of Vaugirard. 

The folio wing year, appointed professor of mathe 
matics in the School Sainte-Genevieve, he entered 
upon that course of teaching which was to occupy, 
almost exclusively and to the end, his active years. 
Naturally his place was there ; his previous studies 
as well as his mental gifts, his quality of old pupil of 
the Polytechnic School, his title of licentiate of the 
mathematical sciences, all recommended him for 
that employment, and by assigning him another our 
superiors would have seemed to poorly justify the 
reputation they have of putting each man at the 
post that suits him best, and which he is best fitted 
to occupy. 

It is true they might have first sent him to study 
his theology, so that having to follow a four years 
course he could have passed his last examinations 



366 Alexis Clerc. 

at the age of about forty-one a rather mature age, 
and one that it was a little unusual to see on the 
benches. But the School Sainte-Genevieve, newly 
established, needed professors, and it is self-evident 
that in those beginnings there was no great variety 
of choice. Several of the persons who would have 
succeeMl (here required preparation; Clerc was 
already prepared and ready to take ; they took him 
without asking him if another destination would not 
be more agreeable. Others besides him made the 
same sacrifice, and made it joyfully. It is the 
honor and strength of our Institute that in such 
cases individual interests retire before the superior 
interest of the glory of God. 

When that preparatory school, which is now 
flourishing and even celebrated, was seen to open 
very modestly in our house of the Rue Lhomond 
(formerly Rue des Postes), there were not wanting 
people to warn us that certain failure awaited us. 
These people added that if we had succeeded in 
our colleges in making bachelors of letters, we 
would perhaps be less fortunate in teaching the 
sciences, and that in any case the struggle would be 
a sharp one. Truly, the enterprise was bold and 
somewhat hazardous. The similar establishments 
with which we would have to compete had in their 
favor (some of them at least) a half century of 
existence and success, reputation, acquired ex 
perience, wealth, and a numerous corps of teachers 
perfectly trained, while we had nothing of the 
sort. However, those obstacles were surmounted, 
and we even did not have to wait long for success.. 



School Sainte-Genevieve. 367 

By what means did the new-comers achieve so re 
spectable a place beside their formidable competi 
tors ? By self-devotion a self-devotion such as 
all human, motives combined could not inspire. To 
sacrifice their time and tastes, their health, their 
strength, and the vigor of their youth, without pos 
sible compensation in this world this is what re 
ligious have been, able to do by the grace of their 
vocation, what God has blessed, and to-day we be 
hold its fruits. We do not refer only to the results 
of the examinations, to the pupils admitted to the 
Polytechnic School, Saint-Cyr, the Naval, Central, 
Agricultural Schools, etc.; they may now be counted 
by hundreds and thousands ; they fill the armies of 
sea and land, not to mention the civil careers where 
they do not take the lowest rank. But the bloody 
battles of our late wars proved that they possessed 
merits far more precious to their country than pro 
fessional knowledge and high mental culture. A 
hundred of those noble young men slain by the 
enemy, and fallen with their arms in their hands, 
are the worthy crown of masters who also knew 
how to shed their blood for a cause not less beauti 
ful, or rather for the same cause, masters and 
pupils having but one cry and one device : God 
and the country ! f 

There, at Sainte-Genevieve, Clerc met among his 
new colleagues Father Leon Ducondray, then a 
simple surveillant, who later became his superior, 

+ See "Souvenirs of the School Sainte-Genevieve. Notices 
of the pupils slain by the enemy," By the Rev. Father Chau- 
veau, S. J. 8 vols. in 18. 



Alexis Clerc. . , / 

and of whom he was the companion in death. 
How suited they were to one another ! With an 
ardor more restrained and less readily enkindled, 
there was in Father Ducondray the same abnega 
tion, the same active and joyous generosity, the 
same devotedness to the common cause. His vo 
cation, less extraordinary in certain aspects, had 
nevertheless cost him more than one sacrifice. A 
doctor of laws, of high birth, possessor of a hand 
some fortune, endowed with noble faculties en 
hanced by the perfect elegance of his person and 
manners, he might have aspired to the most 
distinguished position in the world and in the 
higher walks of public life where he would natu 
rally have entered. He preferred to live poor 
and unknown for the love of Jesus Christ, and at 
the age of twenty-five he left all his brilliant fu 
ture and an admirable mother justly proud of such 
a son to enter the Society of Jesus. The supe 
riors were not slow in discovering his merit, but 
they made no haste to put him on a pinnacle. 
After two years of novitiate, after another year 
consecrated to the study of philosophy and the 
preparation for an examination, they assigned him 
the humble but important duties of a surveillant, 
too like those which God confides to his angels for 
a true religious to despise them. In his discharge 
of them he displayed a rare maturity and a re 
markable clear-sightedness. < f He was/ 7 some one 
who knew him well has said, "a surveillant of im 
posing presence." I can well believe it. As he 
walked in the presence of God he possessed his 



School Sainte-Genevieve. 369 

soul in peace, and a certain calm dignity never 
forsook him. Therefore nobody was astonished 
when, still young, his theology being completed, 
he was named rector. He was in every respect 
equal to his position, and, having to face uncom 
mon difficulties that would have disconcerted a less 
valiant soul, he triumphed over them by his sub 
lime abnegation and the greatness of his faith. 
Clerc also knew at the School Sainte-Genevieve 
Father Caubert, who, on the fatal May 26, 1871, 
accompanied Father Olivaint and Father de Bengy 
to the last combat, and fell with them under the 
shooting of the Rue Haxo. To-day one same tomb 
reunites them all, and together they repose glori 
ously at the foot of the Altar of the Martyrs. 

Thus we see how the future martyr of La Rc- 
quette found himself in his element in the com 
pany of souls of the same metal, the same quality 
as his own ; and he proved to himself that he was 
not deceived when, fleeing from the world and 
dreading the contagion of its vices, he said on the 
day of his election : " The common life in a re 
ligious community carries you, almost without 
your being aware of it, to the opposite virtues, 
and by good example encourages you to all the 
others." 

The eight years he passed at the School Sainte- 
Genevieve may be summed up in two words : hQ 
effaced himself more and n:ore and he devoted 
himself without reserve. Before as well as after 
his theology charged with a class of the second or 
third grade, lie did not shine more than others 



37 Alexis Clerc. 

whose knowledge was nofc nearly so extensive nor 
so profound. One of his superiors, like him a 
pupil of the Polytechnic School, considered his 
course almost too learned. From the entirely prac 
tical point of view of the preparation for the ex 
aminations, this is nofc an encomium. It may be 
that his essentially quick and intuitive mind had 
some difficulty in regulating its steps so as to ren 
der it easy for all to follow. He made up for this 
fault by an unvarying kindness of manner that set 
his pupils perfectly at their ease, and allowed them 
to ask of him, in season and out of season, all the 
explanations they wanted. Some lines from his 
hand show us in what a truly supernatural spirit, 
with what detachment from self and humble ac 
quiescence in the will of G-od, he accepted in its 
plenitude, however repugnant to nature and how 
ever ungrateful it might be, the task obedience 
imposed upon him in the rather varied duties he 
had to perform at Sainte-G-enevieve s: 

" The employment I received with indifference 
seems to me the most desirable in the house : 

" Teaching the sciences useful to the temporal 
career of the children. 

" Teaching the truths of religion, and finally 
teaching virtue. 

" For the first and second points I need to labor; 
for the third, to be closely un ted with Jesus 
Christ I shall strive for this, and I shall explain 
tiie life of our Lord to the sodality. 

"My instructions will be less didactic, more 
conversational. 



School Saint e- Genevieve. 371 

With regard to extra duties, I wish to be like 
the old man s stick." .,; 

Tims Father Clerc, then a priest, was that year : 
1, professor of mathematics (teaching the sciences 
useful to the temporal career of the children) ; 2, 
charged with a catechism class (teaching the 
truths of religion) ; 3, director of a sodality, and 
that was principally where he had to teach virtue. 
Besides all this, he was called upon for certain 
corvees, or extra duties, which did not fall under 
any of these three heads, and of which the com 
plete enumeration is impossible, since they were 
composed especially of accidental and unforeseen 
requirements. To take the pupils to walk, not 
always, be it well understood, in the finest of 
weather; on the days of dismissal to accompany 
them to the railroad depots ; on the opening days 
to survey the parlors, courts aud corridors, etc., 
etc. all that has nothing to do with teaching ma 
thematics, and it is not to the honorable professors 
of our lyeeums that we need address ourselves for 
the performance of such work. They intrench 
themselves in their classes, as is their right : suum 
cuique. Only would to God that this surveillance 
of every moment wherein the good deportment and 
the morality of the pupils are concerned to the 
highest degree, were not abandoned to subordi 
nates destitute of authority as well as of personal 
dignity, and incapable of inspiring youth with the 
respect they do not always have for themselves ! 
This, it must be admitted, is one of the plague- 
spots in laic education, and it is vain to seek a re- 



37 2 Alexis Clerc. 

medy outside of the sentiments faith plants in 
the heart of the religious and the priest. With 
zeal for souls and with religious obedience, all be 
comes easy, and that which everywhere else is es 
teemed petty and contemptible is ennobled by the 
loftiness of the object and the grandeur of the re 
sult. Ah ! there is no doubt but that, humanly 
speaking, it is a pretty disagreeable business to 
conduct; a squad of youth on a promenade, espe 
cially through the streets and boulevards of Paris, 
where there are unfortunate contacts and splashes 
of more than one sort to be dreaded for them. But 
one does not become a religious, and in particular 
a Jesuit, to have a good time, and if a man has the 
holy passion of glorifying God and saving souls by 
mortifying himself, he will find therein the means 
with all the chances in the world of escaping the 
assaults of vain glory and the surprises of self-love. 
If it costs a little and it will sometimes cost a 
good deal to nature at least it is not trouble wast 
ed and the result is sure in the long run. In spite 
of the levity of their age, the young understand by 
instinct that if a man of merit, after so many other 
sacrifices, gives up for their sake his rest and his 
ease, it is because he expects much of them, and, 
touched by such devotedness, they labor to render 
themselves worthy of it. It is for them the seed 
of better sentiments, and certain ones of them will 
tell you that thus they were won, without exactly 
knowing how, to duty and virtue. Never from the 
height of his chair, where, however, he gave proof 
of science, talent, and zeal, did the most accom- 



School Saint e-Genevieve. 373 

plished professor gain such an influence over them. 
But they saw that same professor descend to their 
level, enter, so to speak, into their everyday school 
life, perhaps join in their games, wear himself out 
from morning to night in making himself all to 
all. There is no more to be said ; they know with 
what a true and sure friend they have to deal, and 
it will be very difficult for them to resist his en 
treaties when he shall ask as his only reward that 
they perform their duty conscientiously, that they 
think in sober earnest of becoming not only honest 
men, but good men, true and solid Christians. 

Behold how great is the importance of those 
humble and fatiguing corvees in a house of Chris- 
ti-n education! St. Ignatius says that the obe 
dient religious is like a stick in an old man s hand. 
Father Clerc, making the most meritorious appli 
cation of this to himself, desires to be like a stick 
for the corvees. Those who saw him at the work 
say that he acquitted himself of it with the best 
grace in the world. Therefore he was universally 
beloved and respected by his pupils. 

If he thus devoted himself with his whole heart 
to what related only to exterior discipline, what 
was he in his catechism class, in his sodality, 
where he taught not mathematics but virtue and 
religion ? 

His sodality was composed of future pupils of 
the Polytechnic School ; they were the head, the 
blite of the School Sainte-Genevieve, and as in gene 
ral they joined the distinction of talent to the au 
thority of virtue and character, their example was 



374 Alexis Clerc. 

very powerful in the house, and it depended upon 
them in some sort to lead the rest of their com 
panions in the good path. Father Clerc applied 
himself to strengthening their faith, to arming it 
against the dangers that would soon assail it, to 
inspiring them with a sincere, manly, and generous 
virtue, a tender devotion towards Jesus Christ and 
his holy Mother, and to putting under the care of 
the Virgin Immaculate all the treasures the purity 
of a heart of twenty years promises to mature age. 
His sodalists venerated him as a saint, and loved 
him as tho best of fathers. "He gave all his 
heart to his sodality," said the Rev. Father de Pon- 
levoy, w >o, visiting the School Sainte-Genevieve in 
the capacity of Provincial, was particularly watch 
ful of all that belonged to the service of God, and 
could not be indifferent to a spectacle so consoling 
to his fiith. "I was present at the reunions 
several times," he added, "to preside over them. 
It is impossible to describe the joy that reflected 
from Father Clerc s person when he was in the 
midst of all his children." 

His children that is the right word, and what 
we shall see of the affectionate relations that were 
formed between them and him, and continued 
always intimate and confiding long after their en 
trance in the world, will show how deep was his 
influence on the hearts that had once been touched 
by the flame of his charity and zeal. 

Let us now say a few words about the four 
years Father Clerc consecrated to the study of 
dogmatic theology (1861-1865), and which he 



Laval. 375 

passed at the scholasticate of Laval, where he is 
affectionately remembered. 

At the age of forty-one he once more took his 
place on the benches, and this, we may believe, 
most cheerfully, happy to obey his superiors, and 
happy beyond all expression to find his St. Thomas 
again and to hold long and studious conversations 
with him. I say St. Thomas ? It was the whole 
school that came to visit him, and he welcomed 
them most gladly. Now Suarez, and now Toletus 
or Fonseca his note-books show this in turn oc 
cupied his learned leisure, and he abandoned him 
self without constraint to the inclination he had 
always felt for scholasticism. We must note this 
as a feature of his character, and it is not the least 
attractive. He had in everything a horror, if I may 
dare so to speak, of the quod justum, and he in 
clined to all that he judged not only useful with a 
practical and immediate utility, but with a nobly 
supererogatory one ; and as he had put a certain 
luxury in his use of corporal mortifications, he put 
it likewise in his studies, always following that 
generous impetus which we have remarked in him 
from the first of his novitiate, persuaded that there 
should be nothing mediocre in the service of God. 

Study was not his sole occupation. He was a 
priest ; he exercised either in Laval or in the 
neighboring towns some of the functions of the 
evangelical ministry, and even gave missions in the 
country districts. But it was especially to the 
laboring youth of the city that he consecrated the 
first fruits of his zeal, and here is what has been 



Alexis Clerc. 

written to us on this subject by a friend who, hap 
pening to be in Laval, was kind enough to ques 
tion in our interest the still vivid recollections pre 
served there, and to send us the facts he gathered 
from the surest sources : 

" The members of the Conference of St. Vincent 
de Paul still gladly remember Father Clerc s first 
efforts as catechist of the apprentice?. His in 
structions were solid and perfectly adapted to his 
auditory ; he knew especially how to captivate 
them by interesting narrations. Consequently the 
young men loved to hear him, and several have 
since declared that they found a powerful help in 
his advice. 

" Another still more important work assigned 
him by his superiors did not permit him to con 
tinue his catechism classes. I refer to the (Euvre 
de Beauregard. To withdraw young persons from 
the dangerous pleasures of the city by furnishing 
them with innocent amusements such was the 
idea which presided at the foundation of that cha 
ritable institution. On Sundays and holydays the 
young workmen are assembled in a house pleasant 
ly situated. There they attend Mass and Vespers, 
rest among joyous companions from the labors of 
the week, and in the evening return to their 
families. They are generally remarked for their 
peaceful habits and their industry. How different 
from those poor workmen who exhaust their 
strength in debauchery, and wearily resume their 
interrupted labor ! 

* Father Clerc was not slow in making himself 



Laval. 377 

beloved by all by the president and the young 
men. He took part in all their games, so as to 
animate them by his example. His skill was pro 
verbial. He challenged the strongest, and often 
allowed himself to be beaten, so as to give his an 
tagonists the honor and pleasure of victory. When 
inclement weather prevented the noisy band from 
enjoying its sport in the field, Father Clerc was the 
centre around which it gathered ; and then began 
a story of palpitating interest, an interminable 
story, with a plot that grew more or less compli 
cated according to the duration of the bad weather. 
All listened with the greatest attention, and even 
frequently, notwithstanding the return of clear 
skies, the narrator yielded to the gentle violence 
that was done him, and brought the tale to a 
happy denouement. 

"If there was question of an administrative 
measure, his advice was generally adopted as the 
best. Was it necessary to employ severity against 
an unruly spirit, Father Clerc interceded for the 
culprit : his heart was so merciful ! Did a boy de 
serve to be expelled, the father was only with dif 
ficulty induced to consent ; he wanted them to 
wait, for to his way of thinking it was a soul the 
more that would be lost." 

We know, besides, and from an equally sure 
source, that the zeal he expended in this work in 
the pursuit of souls frequently had the sweetest 
and most consoling results. His amiable playful 
ness had gained him all hearts, but his influence 
was especially great over such of those young per- 



378 Alexis Clerc. 

sons as were approaching a maturer age, and some 
of them, docile to his counsels, made remarkable 
progress in virtue. One among them at the age ot 
twenty-six commenced his classical studies so as to 
enter holy orders. What was not Father Clerc s 
ardor in seconding his design ? What measures he 
took, what fatigue he endured ! He did not rest 
until he had procured for the young man, as far as 
was in his power, the necessary assistance for pur 
suing his studies and supplying the place of his 
daily earnings. 

So it was that within the limits of what was pos 
sible, and without allowing his zeal for theology to 
be cooled, Father Clerc during his stay at Laval 
spent his happiest leisure hours in the practice of 
that ingenious and active charity with the secrets 
of which he had long been acquainted, and which 
had caused it to be said of him at Tndret, while he 
was still an officer of the navy, that he alone was 
worth a whole Conference of St. Vincent de Paul. 

And now, in concluding this chapter, one of the 
shortest of this biography wherein we have chiefly 
at heart exact veracity, may we be permitted a re 
flection ? 

Here, then, gathered into a very few pages, is all 
of interest we have been able to glean concerning 
that considerable portion of the religious life of 
our beloved brother comprised between the end of 
his novitiate and the beginning of his third proba 
tion that is to say, in thirteen full years, of which 
he passed one at Vaugirard, eight at the School 
Sainte-Genevieve, and the other four at Laval. 



Laval. 379 

Assuredly, from a merely human point of view, 
it is very little and unimportant, and, even so, 
we may perhaps be reproached for having, in our 
brevity, insisted too much upon certain details. 
Still, the author of the "Imitation" tells us in 
fitting words : "It is no small matter to dwell in 
monasteries or in a congregation, and to live with 
our brethren without reproach, and to persevere 
faithfully until death."* But when the death 
which crowns so holy a life is that of a martyr, 
what think you of it ? Was it not worth the while to 
enquire about the hidden or but slightly-shining 
merits to which God in his wisdom reserved the 
incomparable honor of that supreme victory ? 

This is why, having to unroll those thirteen 
years of religious life, where day succeeds day with 
out changing the routine of occupations or varying 
the employment of the hours, we have not deemed 
that we ought, for the sake of pleasing the worldly, 
to omit incidents small and vulgar in appearance, 
but wherein a practised eye will discern by the 
li^ht of faith the grand characters of a virtue proof 
to the rudest combats and equal to all sacrifices. 

*!N"on est parvum in monasteriis yel in congregatione 
habitare. et ibi sine querela conver?ari, it usque ad mortem 
fldelis perseverare ("Imit.," 1. i. cap. xvii.) 



CHAPTEE XII. 

FATHER CLERC AND HIS PUPILS. 

F WE have not said all there is to be said about 
the professorship of Father Clerc. We must look 
at its fruits. " By their fruits you shall know 
them " (Matt. yii. 16). There was something very 
beautiful about his relations with his pupils. A 
devoted professor, devoured with the wish of being 
useful to those committed to his charge, he loved 
and he was loved ; he gave himself to them, and 
they gave themselves to him as youth knows how 
to give, without bargaining and without dreaming 
of taking back the gift. This is what we lerrn 
from numerous letters he carefully preserved in his 
private archives as so many souvenirs of an ever 
precious past. Was it not very allowable for him, 
in the evenings of his laborious and full days, to 
rest himself in the shade of those young and fresh 
friendships, and to breathe the perfume that ex 
haled from the hearts of his dear pupils ? 

We have breathed it after him, and we are em 
balmed with it, Perfect stranger as we were to 
the circumstances mentioned in these letters whose 
writers were unknown to us, we have not been able 
to escape a sympathetic emotion while penetrating 

380 



Father Clerc and his Pupils. 381 

much further than we had hoped to, into the inner 
life of that class that was Father Clerc s delight 
and that had so great a resemblance to a closely- 
united family. 

We do not think we are indiscreet in unfolding 
some of the pages of this correspondence, whose 
gravest confidences need have no fear of revela 
tion. They are flowers gathered in Father Clerc s 
garden and of which we would weave him a crown. 
His old pupils will not be displeased that the world 
should learn that if he was all tenderness towards 
them, he had not, thank God ! ingrates to deal 
with. 

It was in October, 1861, the time of the reopen 
ing of the school ; Father Clerc had the preceding 
year been the professor of the cours des marins (a 
course preparatory to the Naval School), boys of 
ahout fifteen years of age and the youngest of 
all in the School Sainte-Genevieve.* They are no 
sooner arrived than they are eager to throw them 
selves into the arms of their excellent master. 
But, alas ! his room is empty, and they are told 
that he has been gone from the house some weeks; 
he is now at Laval, where he will spend several 
years. What a bitter deception for them ! What 
regrets ! what complaints I One would have sup 
posed they were victims of treason, and that a base 
advantage had been taken of their absence. How 
was it that the father-provincial, the author of 
this change, had not consulted them ? Then, the 

* This section has since been transferred to Brest i* the im 
mediate neighborhood of the school-ship. 



382 r Alexis Clerc. 

first emotion passed, they reflect that there is still 
some communication possible between Paris and 
Laval, and each boy takes up his pen to write to 
his old master. If I may judge by the samples I 
have before me, the postal service had a great deal 
to do about the end of that particular October. 

" My kind and dear father," this one writes, " I 
do not mean that the others shall write to you and 
your little gars [he is a Breton] not, and that you 
should think he only remembers those who are 
present. I earnestly assure you I shall all my life 
remember your kindness to me. I was very sorry 
to leave Paris without being able to say good-by to 

you ; if Father P , who took me to the depot, 

had not prevented me from going to your room, I 
should not have left so," etc., etc. 

All use nearly the same language, but each con 
siders himself as under special obligations. " Kev- 
erend Father," says another, who believes himself 
behindhand, " it is very shameful for me to be the 
last to write to you, you who showed me so much 
kindness last year, although sometimes you did 
look cross at me, and dry bread alone, or with 
prunes, made me remember that there must be no 
talking during recitation. But all that, I know 
very well, was to make me work and gain as much 
as possible for the next year. It was only with 
deep astonishment mixed with regret that I 
learned of your departure ; for, after all our ac 
quaintance with one another, I would much rather 

have you than Father 1ST , whom I did not 

know," etc. 



Father Clerc and his Pupils. 383 

Meanwhile, let us remark, the pupils soon 
grew accustomed to the new professor, and they 
congratulated themselves on the solidity and clear 
ness of his manner of teaching, and none of them 
thought of paying court to Father Clerc by telling 
him that he was not well replaced. 

Here is another correspondent, who mingles a 
little malice with his expressions of regret : 

" I have no need to tell you all the sorrow I ex 
perienced when I learned that you had left us. Ifc 
is unfortunate for us, the sailors ; but I think, how 
ever, that you ought not to be sorry, not for having 
left us, but for having left the business of professor, 
which, according to report (I cannot speak from ex 
perience), is not the most interesting, especially 
when one has many mediocre pupils." 

The compliment is not of the most nattering to 
Messrs, the sailors, but the observation in its gene 
rality does not lack justice. 

Was Father Clerc, then, for ever lost to them ? 
No ; in accordance with the custom of the house, 
they might hope to see him at the time of the semi 
annual examinations, when he would come to share 
the labors of his former colleagues. Besides, Laval 
was on the road to Brest, on the road to the school- 
ship, and, once appointed naval cadets, his pupils 
on repairing to their post had a fine opportunity of 
stopping to call on him. 

" Reverend Father," writes one of those fortu 
nate competitors who had just read his name in 
the official list, "you must know the result of the 
examinations ; so my letter is to reply to your kind 



384 Alexis Clerc. 

invitation. We are to start September 28, by the 
morning train that reaches Laval at 2.13. It will 
be a great pleasure for me to see you, but I would 
not like you to incommode yourself on my account 
if you are occupied." The same boy will soon 
write from the school-ship and give news of his 
companions, adding the names and qualities of the 
ship s officers, the most of whom are old comrades 
of Father Clerc. 

One of those who felt most keenly the unexpect 
ed departure that caused so much regret was a 
new-comer, until then a pupil of Vaugirard, who 
consequently knew the father only by reputation, 
but who had begun to rejoice several months be 
fore at the prospect of preparing for the Naval 
School under his guidance. Courageously employ 
ing a part of his vacation in bringing himself up 
to the level of the course he was to follow, he sub 
mits to his future professor his daily regulation, in. 
which work was wisely combined with the rest and 
amusements of the season ; and after having given 
this unequivocal proof of his good will, he con 
cludes by saying : "This letter, Reverend Father, 
is doubtless very dull, very cold, and very insignifi 
cant in itself ; it is not the style of a student of 
humanities ; but, at least, be persuaded of the re 
spect and devotedness (since he has not yet been 
able to learn to know you, that is, to love you) of 
your grateful and loving son." This appears like 
a slight contradiction in terms ; but we see that the 
boy s heart got the start of him, so sure he was of 
the sort of man he was writing to, and so certainly 



Father Clerc and his Pupils. 385 

did he recognize in advance the father in the fu 
ture professor. 

Being arrived at the School Sainte-Genevieve too 
late to become his pupil, he does not deem himself 
released from obligations towards Father Clerc, 
and he writes to him again : " Keverend Father, 
probably you have not expected to receive a note 
from me. Still, I have believed it my duty to 
thank you for the favors you have done me, and 
hearing all my fellow-pupils extol your kindness to 
them makes me want to tell you how I have pro 
fited by that you have shown me." Here follows 
an account of his vacation work, in which he faith 
fully observed Father Clerc s instructions. But 
the poor child cannot say enough about the kindness 
of the father, and, dwelling on what his new com 
panions have told him, he adds ingenuously: 

" H has spoken to me about you in a way that 

has given me a great deal of pleasure, for I have 
understood that both times I saw you I was not de 
ceived, and that you are truly a very good father." 
He who wrote these lines died at twenty-three years 
of age, an ensign of the navy. Fallen in the very 
first of the career which smiled upon his youthful 
ambition, but doubtless preserved by that prema 
ture end from the corruption of the world, the lit 
tle we know of him attaches us to his memory, and 
makes us love him as he himself loved the excellent 
master he had had but a glimpse of. 

This is enough to show us that the affection with 
which Father Clerc inspired his pupils was inti 
mate, deep, serious, and need we say it ? Chris- 



386 Alexis Clerc. 

tian before all else. When days of trial come these 
young men will know where to seek consolation, 
and they will find it quite natural to confide to him 
not only the little disappointments of their school 
life, but also the cruel misfortunes that overthrow 
their plans for the future, and the still more ir 
reparable losses that plunge their families into 
mourning. 

Here is a letter which, we copy with real plea 
sure, being unable to doubt that he who wrote it 
was the worthy pupil of such a master : 

" SCHOOL SAINTE-GENEVIEVE, 
Tuesday, October 25, 1861. 

" REVEREND AND VERY DEAR FATHER : I beg 
your pardon for troubling you, but a very power 
ful motive prompts me to write. All our family, 
and especially my beloved father, has jnsfc met 
with a cruel affliction. My grandfather, my fa 
ther s father, has died suddenly, without having 
had time to make any preparation for that terrible 
change. This dear grandfather died last Monday, 
October 17, we do not know at what hour, for the 
servant, on entering his room in the morning, 
found him inanimate and stretched on the floor., 
The day before he had been as gay, in as good 
spirits, as usual ; he had received a visit of two 
hours, had played a game of billiards, and had sat 
up till ten o clock in the evening laughing and 
playing cards. Alas ! he did not think of the 
great misfortune that was going to befall us. It 
is to be believed that he had not a moment of 
agony, and that he was not conscious when he died ; 



Father Clerc and his Pupils. 387 

for af tei; his death, when he had been replaced 
on his bed, those who had the happiness of see 
ing him have told me that he looked like a hand 
some old man asleep. His face was calm, and his 
features not altered in the least; he must have 
risen to get something in his room, and then have 
fallen on the flcor by a sudden stroke of apoplexy. 
Such a death was very dreadful and cruel to him 
as well as to his children. Papa had seen him 
only a fortnight before, and it was a month since 
my aunt had last seen him ; as for my uncle, he 
was with my grandfather, but he had no more con 
solation than the rest of us, since, after having left 
his father well the evening before, he next saw him 
lifeless and without having had a word of conso 
lation or farewell from his lips. It is also very 
terrible and very cruel for me, for I cannot tell you 
how fond I was of that beloved grandfather ; how 
ever, in the midst of all this grief, we have some 
cause for consolation, and we hope in the mercy of 
God. Fortunately, my grandfather was a very 
practical Christian from the age of seventy-two, 
the age when he made his First Communion. 
From that time he went regularly to confession 
and communion, and he has always been sur 
rounded by poor families who owed their happiness 
and comfort to him. All this leads us to hope 
that God has called him to himself to reward him 
for his useful and honorable life. This death, al 
though very fearful, is perhaps another mercy of 
God, who wished to spare my dear grandfather the 
sufferings and agony of death which he feared so 



388 Alexis Clerc. 

much. We confidently hope and we also pray very 
earnestly for rest for his soul. I will ask you, 
i then, my .very dear father, to be so kind as to say a 
Mass for him, and not to forget him in your daily 
prayers. We recommend him most especially to 
you, whose prayers are so powerful with God. 
Your well-beloved child, K. P. L." 

It is unnecessary to enlarge upon the sentiments 
that dictated this letter, signed with one of the most 
respected names of the upper Parisian bourgeoisie. 

But who is this young invalid, matured before hia 
time by suffering, whoso candidly exposes the state 
of his soul, and who dates his letters from a little 
town of the Cote d Or ? 

We had vainly sought for his name in the cata 
logue of the school Sainte-Geuevieve, and we had 
asked ourselves where he had imbibed so fervent a 
faith, when we had the inspiration to write to the 

parish priest of S , in whose arms, according 

to all probability, he breathed his last sigh. 

Directly everything was explained, and some of 
Father Clerc s letters, preserved by a mourning 
family, soon reached us, and showed us to what an 
efficacious and sure direction he submitted that 
soul predestined to the cross and to the crown of 
innocence. 

Louis (we suppress the name of his honorable 
family), early become a pupil of the College of 
Montgre, directed by the Jesuit Fathers, had con 
ceived an affection for his masters which never 
altered. Towards the close of his studies, ex 
periencing a strong attraction for the religious life, 



Father Clerc and his Pupils. 389 

he resolved to enter the novitiate; neither the 
railleries of certain friends nor the formal opposi 
tion of his father could turn him from this purpose, 
which he earnestly pursued. His father believed he 
could overcome his constancy by launching him in 
the world, and exacted that he should go through 

his law course. By advice of the cure of S , 

Louis asked to be at least permitted to study in 
Paris, where he would have more liberty to frequent 
the Jesuit Fathers house, and to confide the inte 
rests of his soul to them. It was thus he met 
Father Clerc, and we may judge of the welcome he 
received, from this little note which he treasured 
until his death : 

"MY DEAR CHILD: You are still playing at 
hide-and-seek ; since you have not caught me, you 
should continue to seek for me. I had already 
last week gran ted what you ask, so I repeat it; but 
I do not dispense you from finding me when you 
come to the house for that purpose, and when I 
am not gone out. Yours very affectionately in our 
Lord, AL. CLERC, S.J. 

" PARIS, June 12, 1867." 

In the month of November Louis is at home, 
and writes in his turn : 

"REVEREND FATHER: Ever since I left Paris 
my thoughts have frequently travelled in search of 
you. How many times I have paid you those 
charming visits when you lavished upon me the 
treasures of your friendship, your wisdom, and 
your piety ! I have preserved the most precious 
memories of those happy moments, and my re- 



39 Alexis Clerc. 

grets for having lost them daily grow more bitter. 
I would like to tell you how grateful I am for 
your kindness, for your unlimited devotedness, 
your inexhaustible charity. But I would be 
ashamed to attempt to acquit myself of the debt 
I owe you by sterile thanks. I would rather re 
main all my life your debtor, because I can only 
completely liberate myself in heaven. Meanwhile, 
I shall pray God to repay you a hundred-fold for 
that sweet peace you have given me, those conso 
lations you have never refused to my importuni 
ties, and, in short, all those spiritual advantages I 
have gained from your good advice, your excellent 
direction." 

Poor young man ! attacked by an unknown 
malady, he does not feel strong enough to under 
take the journey to Paris ; at the most he hopes to 
go to Dijon in a month to resume, if possible, his 
interrupted studies. 

" MY DEAR AND VERY DEAR CHILD " (Father 
Clerc replies, letter of December 16, 1867): "What 
is the meaning of this bad health, and are you no , 
going to overcome it at last like a man ? Is it a 
new sickness, or a continuation of that of last 
year ? You do not tell me enough about it ; I 
fear lest it may still be your bowels. It is hard to 
know how to reach so deep a disease, and it causes 
trouble in the whole system, even when it is not 
very violent. I believe in the efficacy of mineral 
waters for these maladies ; think of this next sea 
son ; and also in that of a good regime a very 
regular life and physical exercise." 



Father Clerc and his Pupils. 391 

Here follow some hygienic counsels which be 
token the most tender interest. 

" Having left this bad Paris," he continues, 
"you ought not to be sick;, perhaps you have car 
ried about the germs of this disease these last two 
years. I would like for all that to see you again. 
Must I wait till 1869 ? As well say till Doomsday. 
If there is question of a sojourn depending on a 
great project, you do not say so ; and in truth 
your letter is too short, and leaves me everything to 
ask. 

" I say everything ; that is too strong, and is 
grumbling without due cause, for your kind little 
letter tells me that you love me. There is nothing 
so sweet as to know that our love is returned. I 
love you too tenderly, my very dear child, not to 
derive a great joy from the expression of your af 
fection. 

" How pleasant your visits were to me, and how 
it delighted my heart to receive the communica 
tions of yours ! There was in our intercourse, for 
me not only the pleasure and sweetness of a lively 
affection satisfied ; there was also the joy of as 
sisting you in your good intentions, and of reas 
suring a delicate and alarmed conscience. "What 
consolation your desire of truth, your docility, your 
confidence gave me ! Dear and beloved child of 
my heart, may God bless you and preserve you in 
fervor and fidelity ! 

" I am wonderfully well, and teach mathematics 
more and more ; our school of the Rue des Postes 
prospers perfectly, I cannot tell you how excel. 



39 2 Alexis Clerc. 

lent our pupils are, especially those of the first di 
vision 5 their industry, docility, piety, almost ex 
ceed my desires ; I believe we do not desire what 
we do not hope for, and I believe my hopes are 
surpassed. After God s grace, it is to the pru 
dence, piety, and firmness of our father rector (Fa 
ther Ducoudray) that we owe this. 

"Farewell, my dear child. I shall have a big 
intention for you next Thursday and on the Feast 
of the Holy Innocents. I now embrace you and 
love you tenderly in the Sacred Heart of our Lord. 

"AL. CLEKC, S.J." 

In the spring of the following year the young 
invalid believes himself born again to new life and 
strength. He has just been delivered, he says, from 
his terrible enemy, the taenia, or tapeworm, and he 
makes haste to communicate this good news to the 
worthy friend whose tender anxiety he desires to re 
lieve. This friend had commenced a letter in which 
he is prodigal of counsels to hasten the sick boy s 
recovery. It terminates with the expression of the 
liveliest joy : " Yes, you are going to again become 
active, gay, vigorous, and I shall see you in the 
flower of youth. Certainly, I thank God with a 
glad heart for having preserved and cured my dear 
child for me. Further, I shall say Mass in thanks 
giving for this blessing; and, in order that you 
may unite your intention with mine, I fix Sunday, 
May 24, the Feast of Our Lady of Help, as the clay. 

" You want a letter for the Ascension. You shall 
have it also ; and if you had asked that it might, 



Father Clerc and his Pupils. 393 

carry you all my interest in your welfare, all my 
good wishes for you, all my blessings upon you, 
you should have that too, for I put them all in it, 
and these words of our Lord besides : ( Vado 
parare voUs locum, * for you to occupy that 
Thursday you will spend in your room." 

A whole month passes and the poor boy has not 
yet regained his strength ; nevertheless he writes 
(letter of June 23, 1868) : 

" KEVEREND FATHER: Your kind letter of last 
month gave me such pleasure that it is to you I 
address the first lines I am able to write. I was 
very greatly tormented by the enemy you know of, 
and to deliver me from him it was necessary to as 
sault him so rudely that I am even now scarcely 
convalescent. My strength is only beginning to 
return, and does not allow of my writing you more 
than a few words, which are very insignificant on 
account of their brevity. But at least I shall have 
thanked you, I shall have recommended myself 
anew to your prayers, and I shall have repeated 
the expression of my most sincere affection and my 
filial devotedness, etc. 

" Your child in our Lord, " Louis C." 

" MY DEAR Louis " (Father Clerc replies, letter 
of July 2, 1868) : "I am astonished and distressed 
to learn of the severe struggle you have gone 
through. I had not supposed it would be so long 
or so terrible, and I imagined the difficulty was 
rather in recognizing the enemy than in conquer- 

* " I go to prepare a place for you." 



394 Alexis Clerc. 

ing him. More than a month elapsed between the 
Ascension and the 23d of June, and while 3*011 
were a prey to the greatest sufferings, and your 
life was threatened, I was resting in the confidence 
that your convalescence, already decided, was pro 
gressing to a perfect recovery. 

" This time, at least, are you thoroughly rid of 
the head of the hydra ? Have his terrible fangs let 
go their hold ? At your age health is rapidly re 
gained ; and, surrounded as you are with care and 
affection, your happiness at returning to life, great 
as it is of itself, will receive new charms from the 
road you pass along and the hands that support 
your feeble steps. 

" Oh ! I am very sure you have been patient and 
resigned, gentle, if I may so speak, towards suffer 
ing.. It is, perhaps, more difficult during conva 
lescence to preserve one s self from the exactions 
of sensuality. Can you see a mother, a sister 
hovering about you, anxious, attentive, without 
claiming, without provoking, their devotion ? It 
would be better to meekly await it, and sometimes 
to deny it to yourself. 

" It is likewise difficult to limit the multitudi 
nous little cares bestowed upon our body, our 
health, to what are necessary (these are a duty) or 
even useful (these are also in order), without seek 
ing all the delicacies good only to satisfy our sen 
suality. 

" If I thus preach to you (opportune, importune, 
as St, Paul says) it is because I know well to whom 
I am writing, and that my condolences no more 



Father Clerc and his Pupils. 395 

than my hopes addressed to the heart of my 
friend, will not be enough for the heart of my 
dear son in. our Lord. 

" Do not fail, as soon as you can go to church, 
to receive Holy Communion. As for me, I will 
offer Holy Mass for you in thanksgiving, and also 
for the intention of your full and prompt re 
covery, and this on Thursday, July 8. 

" I shall, then, see you again, as it were, reno 
vated, risen from the dead with a new life, stron 
ger, more rohust than before, and also with a soul 
made perfect by suffering. 

" my very dear son ! all is good for those who 
loye God. Diligentilus Deum omnia co-operantur 
in bonum. I firmly believe it 1 God, who is good 
even towards the wicked, has a special affectionate 
and paternal providence for those who love him. 

" When we await all things, when we receive all 
things as coming from his hand, can there be any 
thing fatal in our destiny ? No, neither sickness 
nor death. He destines you for heaven, and he 
leads you there by the road you need." 

What strength, and at the same time what gen 
tleness ! The young man was worthy of these 
counsels, which reached him most seasonably, as 
we shall see, on the eve of the supreme trials that 
were in reserve for him. 

A letter, Louis last, written at two different 
times (September 10 and 11), reminds us of the 
plaintive accents of King Ezechias : " In the 
midst of my days I shall go to the gates of the 
tomb. , ." 



396 Alexis Clerc. 

" My kind father, it is ages since I have written 
to you, and during all this time God knows how 
often I have thought of you. Until just now I 
have been incapable of holding a pen. My health 
has passed through many trying phases, and I 
scarcely know how it is that I am still in this 
world. I shall, however, endeavor to tell you by 
taking breath several times, if necessary. 

"I have not forgotten that you offered to con 
tinue to be my spiritual guide. I do not know if 
you understood that I accepted ; but without any 
doubt your last letter contained counsels so pre 
cious, so exceedingly appropriate to my needs, that 
God alone could have inspired you with them. 

" I am going to ask you for still more, my kind 
father. If you but knew what good your kind 
words do me ! 

" I have a great remorse. It will presently be 
my ninth month of illness : what a grace this is 
that God has been pleased to grant me! But I 
have profited by it so little that I have religiously 
preserved all my faults, and I am no more ready 
to die than on the first day. My God, forgive me ! 
Father, help me ! I must be ready to die. Death 
is at my door ; I must save my soul at any 
cost. . . ." 

Here the poor invalid stops, being too weak to 
write more ; but the next day he adds : 

" I am no more than a skeleton. Persons who 
have not seen me for some time do not recognize 
me. . . ." Then he enumerates his miseries mise 
ries of the disease increased by the remedies and 



Father Clerc and his Pupils. 397 

he begs in the most touching manner for the help 
he needs to bear the burden that weighs upon him, 
and to turn to God alone with a confident and sub 
missive heart. 

Was this letter answered ? Some words pen 
cilled on the back and margins indicate the nature 
of the reply Father Clerc intended to make ; but 
this reply has not been found, and who knows if 
death, more prompt, did not anticipate it ? 

But we have the certainty that death was gentle 
to that privileged soul, so gentle -itself and so 
humble. A witness of its passage to a better life, 

the cure of S , writes us : " That beautiful 

soul was ripe for heaven." Alluding to Louis 
vocation and his desire of the religious life, he 
adds : 

" God was not willing to lend you our dear 
Louis, as he lent yon his model, Louis de Gon- 



It is true the virtuous young man had not been 
able to cross the threshold of the novitiate, and he 
had not before dying received from us the sweet 
name of brother ; but God, in withdrawing him 
from the world that was not worthy of him, placed 
him in heaven in the virginal choir of the Louis 
de Gonzagas, the Stanislaus Kostkas, and the 
Berchmans, and it was there Father Clerc found 
his dear child again, to lose him no more, when he, 
in his turn, went to take possession of the glory 
he had won at the price of his blood. 

Let us now return to his dear little sailors who 
had so large a share in his solicitude, excited, 



39 8 Alexis Clerc. 

doubtless, by the remembrance of the dangers he 
himself ran in the career he saw them entering 
while still so young, sometimes so innocent, and 
always so inexperienced.* 

"We have remarked one among them who was 
evidently the object of a quite special interest on 
the part of his professor, and whose correspon 
dence, begun at the school Sainte-Genevieve, con 
tinued on board the school-ship, and far longer 
than that, and through all the vicissitudes of his 
sailor s life was uniformly filial and confiding. 
Not to be indiscreet, we asked his permission to 
make use of his letters ; he desired to see them first, 
and, in returning the package to us, he heartily 
thanks us for the pleasure we afforded him. " In 
looking over these pages," he writes, "I went back 
to the happiest period of my youth. During the 
short space of an hour I lived again those two 
years of my stay at the Kue des Postes years so 
fleeting, so full, and so fruitful. I found again 
my companions of other days, my professors, all 
friends. . . ." 

And here, his recollections crowding upon him, 
he let his pen run on. Why should not the reader 
share the pleasure we experienced in perusing his 
letter so overflowing with sincere emotion ? Fa 
ther Clerc will be seen therein as he appeared to 
his pupils, in the spontaneity and unconstraint of 



*In the second period of his professorship (1867-9) Father 
Clerc al^o sent pupils to the "Bcole Centrale." But these young 
men, not being gone from Paris, visited him frequently and 
did not write to him ; consequently they have left few traces 
in the bundle of his correspondence. 



Father Clerc and kis Pupils. 399 

his amiable and charming character. He in whose 
favor we will now be silent for a little space left 
Saint-Barbara and arrived at the school Sainte- 
Genevieve while still a child; he has since been 
an ensign in the navy; to-day, returned to civil 
life, he has his own hearth-stone, where we wish 
him sons that will resemble him. The man has 
preserved the good sentiments of his young years, 
and this is the most beautiful homage he could 
render to the memory of his dear and venerated 
master. 

" Behold me," he writes ns, "knocking for the 
first time at the door of the school, and timidly 
soliciting a place among the children of the house. 

" It was vacation, . . . the hive was silent. In 
the distance in the long corridors black robes pass 
and disappear, . . . then other black robes which 
seem to me gigantic shadows. 

"Must it be said (bah ! at fourteen years) ? I 
was almost afraid. Suddenly I find myself in pre 
sence of the superior, Eev. Father Turquand. 
That beautiful countenance framed in white hair 
inspired respect ; peace and serenity were reflected 
from it, and the sight alone did good. What did 
he say to me ? What did I reply ? I never quire 
knew, troubled as I was ; all I understood was 
that I must pass an examination. 

" Oh ! even now all my terror comes back to me. 
The father-superior had me taken into a study- 
hall ; the door was closed ; I had before me an im 
mense blackboard, beside me one of those black 
robes I had seen in the corridors. I dropped my 



4OO Alexis Clerc. 

eyes, not daring to look either at the robe or the 
board, when I heard a very pleasant, frank voice 
say : Well, my child, you want to be one of our 
pupils ? 

" I was little accustomed to that kindly tone in 
the colleges where I had been. Those words, my 
child/ so new to me, made a singular impression 
upon me ; I would have liked to find words to 
thank him who pronounced them, but none came 
to my lips. He, however, continued, gently ques 
tioning me about what I had done up to then, 
what were my tastes, my pleasures, etc. He did 
not ask me if I was strong in mathematics ; they 
required of me, he said, only good conduct and good 
will ; they would answer for the rest. . . . 

" in proportion as he spoke I felt more reas 
sured. I raised my eyes ; I had never seen a more 
open, a more loyal countenance. The forehead 
was high, the glance full of intelligence. I fel t my 
self in the presence of a superior man ; but what 
was most striking in that phjsiognomy was bene 
volence, kindness ; it shone in every feature. I 
felt myself attracted by an extraordinary sympathy. 
I am ignorant of what impression I then made 
myself, but the conversation insensibly took a turn 
more full of kindness on the one side, and of confi 
dence and unreserve on the other. I say conversa 
tion read confession ; at the end of half an hour 
I had opened all my heart. 

" And when this was finished, the father, taking 
me by the hand, led me back to the father supe 
rior ; he said a few words to him in a low tone, 



Father Clerc and his Papils. 401 

and, smiling at me, went out. Father Turquand 
then informed me that Father Clerc consented to 
admit me to his class, and that from that day I 
was a member of the school. 

"I was enchanted. Bat what delighted me 
most was to think that I was to be in the class of 
Father Clerc ! of that father I had just left ; . . . 
that 1 could see him and hear him every day. 

" Such as he appeared to me in that first in 
terview, such I always found him afterwards 
straightforward, simple, and indulgent. We the 
children, as he called us we worshipped him. 
What a joy it was when out of class-time he came 
among us, and how we surrounded him ! Did he 
descend to the court during a recreation, imme 
diately we ran to him, we tried to speak to him, 
we forced him to reply to us. Sometimes he was 
obliged to be angry in order to make us keep on 
playing ; then lie would threaten to leave the 
court. Most frequently he pretended to take an 
immense interest in a famous game of ball or of 
gymnastics. Oh ! then there was excitement, in 
credible animation ; it was a contest to see who 
could strike the most splendid blows, who would 
risk the most perilous feats. 

" Later, when he left the class, worn out with 
fatigue and labor (as well as macerations of all 
sorts, for that man, so kind to others, was pitiless 
to himself), when, on returning after the vacation, 
we learned that Father Clerc had gone, there was 
a general consternation. I know who shed most 
sincere tears." 



402 Alexis Clerc. 

Soon the heart overflows, and our dear corre 
spondent recalls, now his comrades fallen on the 
battle-field, now his masters immolated by the 
Commune. "Father Clerc, Father Ducoudray," 
he cries, " dear and holy victims, is it thus you 
must crown a life of abnegation and devotedness ? 
" my Father Clerc ! you used often to say to 
me : * When I am no longer able to educate young 
persons and make them Frenchmen and men of 
worth, the dearest wish of my heart is to be sent 
as a missionary to China, to die for my G-od and 
his holy religion. Ah ! who could have foreseen 
that this wish would be so soon accomplished ?" 

I have allowed the man to speak, and surely no 
one will take it amiss ; but now let us go back 
twelve or fourteen years and see how the child 
expressed himself after that cruel departure of Fa 
ther Clerc. 

After some excuses and explanations about his 
having been prevented from writing by an accident 
of some sort, he says: " I earnestly hope that if 
you come to Paris this year, or if I return to 
Angers next year, we shall see one another. It 
would be sue 1 .] a pleasure to me to tell you in words 
how grateful I am for all the kindnesses you 
lavished upon me during the year just passed ! 
And I must tell you that I am not the only one 
who has regretted you, and that each boy looked 
very sorrowful when he learned that you had left 
all vour children." 

Then follow details about the changes in the 
bouse, the new professor who does not trifle, the 



Father Clerc and his Pupils. 403 

studies to which each oue applies himself with all 
his heart. Had not Father Clerc promised that 
they would succeed ? 

In the following letter the young correspondent, 
who is a choir-boy, cannot say enough about the 
ceremonies of All Saints day ; which proves (by 
way of parenthesis) that such little duties offer an 
innocent and agreeable diversion to sfudies which 
are extremely dry and suggest nothing to the 
heart. Then he adds : "Finally, my dear father, 
you ask me for particulars. What shall I tell you ? 
That I have grown a great deal, and that this 
makes me begin to think of the day when I shall 
have to leave this house ? I foresee that I shall be 
very sad, for this is the first time I have felt that I 
loved the people with whom I lived, and that I 
have felt myself loved in return. For after all 
what is a college ? An assemblage of individuals 
wlio come there to pursue their studies, and who 
believe themselves obliged to quarrel with every 
body. Here, on the contrary, besides the pupils 
being on good terms with one another, the fathers 
on their side do all they can to make themselves 
beloved by their pupils. How would it be possible 
for concord not to reign in the house ? But it is 
you, my dear father, whom I ought to thank and 
love more than all the rest ; for, pariah as I was, 
it was you who first drew me to you ; therefore 
rest assured I shall always be grateful to you, and 
afar as well as near, I shall always in my prayers 
include your name among those that are dearest to 
me. But will you not come back to Paris ? " etc. 



404 Alexis Clerc. 

Here are some lines from the next letter : 
" When shall I be able to date my letters from 
the JSorda 9 When conclude them with these 
pompous words : Done in the harbor of Brest, on 
board the school-ship 9 We must wait patiently ; 
is it not so, dear father ? and especially work I 
do both. 

"You recommend us, dear father, to live on 
good terms and in harmony with one another ; I 
assure you this recommendation is superfluous this 
year. How pleased you would be to see vour chil 
dren forming but one family at gymnastics and the 
other games ! " 

"Perhaps, dear father, you were astonished at 

my saying I read P s letter. . . . But I must tell 

you that your letters are grabbed by everybody, 
and almost read to pieces. As soon as one of us 
has received a letter from you, it goes the rounds 
of the whole division ; we form a circle to hear it ; 
then, from the pupils, your orders of the day go 
sometimes to the fathers. So, dear father, do not 
be saving of your kind letters, which are always 
full of good advice, and still more of affection." 

The child is about to enter into retreat ; he begs 
a Mass for his intention, and this in the most 
earnest word?. After Christmas, another descrip 
tion of a beautiful religious solemnity witli this 
final reflection : "I assure you, dear father, that 
it is a very touching sight to see all the pupils, the 
entire college, approaching the Holy Table on 



Father Clerc and his Pupils. 405 

great feasts." And so on during the whole year, 
thanks to this amiable correspondent, the old pro 
fessor knows all that happens to his dear pupils, 
their progress more or le^s rapid, the place of each in. 
the quarterly classing, the discouragement of this 
one, the sickness of another, etc., etc. Then 
comes the long- wished -for day when a first letter 
bears at the top: Borda, Harbor of Brest, and be 
gins in the following manner: * My dear father, 
you have heard that I was accepted, and now I 
have to thank you for your part in my success. 
Indeed, if you had ceased to encourage me, if you 
had not constantly shown me a truly paternal 
kindness, I would have been disheartened the first 
year, and I should not , be able to-day to date my 
letter from the Borda. Accept, then, the assur 
ance of my deep gratitude, and add to all your 
favors the pardon of my negligence." A little 
further on in the same letter we read : " On arriv 
ing here I went to see the Jesuit Fathers. I made 

the acquaintance of Father L ; he is the one my 

correspondent named to me, for I knew nobody 
here. . . . Notwithstanding my joy, I did not bid 

Father C (his professor at the School Sainte- 

Genevieve) good-by without some sadness at leav 
ing that house where I had spent two years, most 
certainly the best of my life." On board the 
school-ship the correspondence continues, filled 
with details about the old pupils of Father Clerc, 
who watches over them from a distance as he did 
when with them. For instance, he learns for 
tunate conjuncture that the former commander 



406 Alexis Clerc. 

of the Cassini is now in the harbor of Brest on 
board the Turenne, which is subject to his orders ; 
behold a true friend for those dear children, and 
, that friend makes no delay in taking Father Clerc s 
place toward them. a Allow me to thank you/ 
one of them writes to him, "for an acquaintance 
you have enabled me to make, and which is very 
valuable to me. I refer to Mr. de Plas. He is a 
very charming and a very distinguished man, a 
true officer of the navy. Several times he has sent 

his boat for D , P , T , and me, and we 

have dined on board the Turenne and spent a de 
lightful evening. 5 

Another quotation (and it will be the last), from 
a letter written on board the Magenta. In a trip 
to Paris the naval cadet had spent a few moments 
in the house of the Eue des Postes; he had found 
Father Clerc there, and the visit had awakened old 
feelings which he could not restrain : " In walking 
with you through that house where I spent two 
such quiet and happy years, I imagined myself 
three years younger. I beheld myself again com 
pletely absorbed by those grave occupations which 
then were the only ones that had the privilege of 
keeping me awake at night, ball-playing and espe 
cially gymnastics. How many times when you were 
trying to get an important demonstration through 
my head, my rebellious spirit was dreaming of a 
new perilous leap ! 

"How many times since I left it, have I had 
cause to regret that hospitable house in an inner 



Father Clerc and his Pupils. 407 

room of which the sombre robe of the priest gave 
so kind a welcome to the somewhat stained uni 
form of the little Barbiste ! . . . The gamin be 
came a youth. Has the youth turned out a man P 
I know not (perhaps you can tell him, Eeverend 
Father, you who know him so well) ; but what I 
do know is that of the gamin there remain only 
the memory and the attachment to those who so 
cordially extended him their hand." 

We will add nothing ; such testimonies, ren 
dered so bountifully in the freedom and unreserve 
of the most intimate intercourse, may be left with 
out a commentary. Where can sincerity be found 
if not in such letters ? One is tempted to apply 
to them these words of Holy Scripture : Ex 
ore wfantium . . . perfecisti laudem. Yes, verily, 
the mouths of children or of very young persons, 
the lips that are yet strangers to disguise and flat 
tery, could alone have given to these praises, which. 
I have only gathered up, that perfect truthfulness 
as well as that charm which pervades them. 

But we must not terminate this chapter, conse 
crated to Father Clerc and his pupils, without 
mentioning those among them who, after having 
loved him so much, proved by dying for the honor 
and defence of their country that they were capa 
ble of understanding that heroic soul and of enter 
taining sentiments as exalted as were his. 

The first is Eoland du Luart, who, struck by 
three balls, fell (December 18, 1864) at Efcla, near 
Oajaca, during the campaign in Mexico where he 
had displayed the most brilliant valor. On learn- 



408 Alexis Clerc. 

ing of the arrival of his son s body at Saint Na- 
zaire, Count Luarfc immediately besought the 
presence of Father Clerc, whom he invited to pro 
nounce a few words at the funeral ceremony. 
" There are only too many lessons enclosed in that 
coffin," replied Father Clerc, and he hastened to 
gratify the pious wishes of his dear Roland s father 
and mother. 

Three others watered with their blood the soil of 
France invaded by the stranger. 

At Gravelotte (August 16, 1870) Louis Coutu 
rier, an officer under General Bataille, had his 
arm pierced by a ball, but did not discontinue his 
service under the fire of the enemy until a shell 
burst beneath his horse, which was killed at the 
same time that he himself fell, fatally wounded in 
the abdomen. Carried from the field on an ambu 
lance, he died two days later, after having piously 
received the last sacraments and while pressing the 
crucifix to his heart. 

At Freteval (December 14, 1870) Maurice de 
Boyseon, who had five brothers in active service 
during that lamentable war : one of them fell when 
he did. An ensign of the navy, Maurice had just 
returned from the disastrous and useless Baltic ex 
pedition when he met his old professor at Cher 
bourg. "I regret," he wrote to his parents, "not 
being able to follow the retreat he is giving, but I 
go to see him feequently, and I think we are very 
well satisfied with one another." He marched at 
the head of a company of marine fusiliers in that 
heroic affair of Freteval, where Commander Collet 



Father Clerc and his Pupils. 409 

fell with his skull shattered, and Maurice at his 
side, a ball buried in his lungs. 

Finally, at the bloody battle of Mans (January 
11, 1871) Maurice du Bourg, a hero of Castelfi- 
dardo and Men tana, who had been one of the first 
to respond to the call of Pius IX., and had re 
mained until the 20th of September, faithful to the 
noble pontifical banner. He was leading to the 
fray his dear zouaves, now the Volunteers of the 
West, when he was struck in the forehead by a ball 
at the moment he was trying to carry the plain of 
Avours, occupied by the Prussians. By his Chris 
tian virtues as well as by his chivalric valor he was 
truly of the race of the Cathelineaus, the Lescures, 
and the Bonchamps. 

Such were Father Clerc s pupils. I speak, be it 
well understood, only of the dead. 

As for those who, thanks be to God, are still full 
of life and ambition, I dedicate to them these 
pages, of which they have furnished me the mat 
ter, and wherein several of them will recognize 
themselves. May they all find therein the charm 
that attaches to the memory of the happiest and 
purest days : to revive, if need be, their better feel 
ings ; to excite them to good by the example of 
those dear departed ones ; and especially, never 
to become for any of them a reproach. 



CHAPTEE XIII. 

FATHER CLERC AND HIS OLD COMRADES. 

GKEAT was the astonishment of Father Olerc s 
comrades, who, having known him only in his life 
of dissipation and pleasure, after long years sud 
denly found him a priest and a Jesuit. Quantum 
mutatus ab illo ! This was the first impression, 
and some of them never got over it. Yet the 
greater number, even more pleased than surprised, 
gradually became accustomed to his new vesture 
and his new mode of life. Enchanted to prove by 
the evidence of their own eyes that he had lost 
none of his spirit, his gayety, his old amiability, 
they soon said : " He is not changed, he is still the 
same," and the old intimacy revived of itself from 
the very first interview. What Clerc had become 
by leaving the world did not lessen their confi 
dence, rather the contrary ; and if by chance they 
put his good-will to the test, then especially they 
congratulated themselves on having in him a sure, 
devoted, and most useful friend. Accordingly, 
with very few exceptions, all were glad to visit 
him. The known earnestness of his religions con- 
victions did not render him inaccessible to those 
who had not the happiness of sharing them. I 

410 



Father Clerc and his Old Comrades. 411 

might name such a savant, his close friend from 
the time they first met, companions in promotion 
at the Polytechnic ; certainly a very distinguished 
man, but one who has the reputation, merited, I 
believe, of being extremely indulgent to the leaders 
of free thought. I am very sure that Clerc, who 
was frankness itself, did not spare him censure on 
that score; nevertheless, their friendship never 
cooled, and lasted until the bloody days of the 
Commune. Having himself offered such a long 
resistance to grace before yielding to its empire, 
he despaired of nobody, and, whatever was the 
eagerness of his desire, he knew how to wait. More 
than once the conquest of souls dear to him was 
the reward of his charitable and engaging lon 
ganimity. 

The reader, perhaps, remembers Mr. C , one 

of the two comrades with whom, on his return 
from Grabon, Clerc shared for several months the 
enjoyment of a little dwelling and garden situated 
in one of the suburbs of Lorient.* A Christian of 
so fresh a date applying himself to the reading of 
Saint Thomas was a matter of astonishment to 
the two friends, who at first thought him deranged, 
tried which could best tease him about his religious 
ideas, engaged him in discussions half-serious and 
half-playful, and, finding they could make no im 
pression upon him, ended by nicknaming him Little 
Monk. Meanwhile Mr. C was not quite as in 
sensible as he thought himself to that example, 

* We mentioned Mr. C in chapter iii. 



412 Alexis Clerc. 

which he met with all the appearances of a jeering 
I scepticism, and he owned later that he was in 
fluenced in spite of himself. That was in 1847. 
Towards the close of 1850 the Cassini, destined 
for China, being in the harbor of Lorient, Olerc 
goes there to superintend the preparations for her 
departure ; he meets his old friend again, and this 
time he brings htm very near Christian truth. 
Four more years pass ; Clerc returns from China, 
finds Mr. C married, and cannot refuse the hos 
pitality offered him by the young household. Their 
relations are more intimate and cordial than ever; 
Clerc announces that he shall leave Lorient only to 
enter the novitiate of the Society of Jesus. " Why, 
that is suicide ! " cries Mr. C , and he en 
deavors to prove to his friend that life is not so bad 
after all, and that it is a shame for him to renounce 
the many joys it still promises him. As a final 
argument he adduces his own example, and shows 
the two pretty children that have been born to 
him during his friend s last voyage. He is an 
swered at first rather feebly, and with a certain em 
barrassment, as if there was little hope of making 
him understand. But soon, in a walk the two 
friends take together, the ice is broken. Clerc 
gives free course to his thoughts, his most private 
sentiments, and he expresses himself with a capti 
vating eloquence. Mr. C has never forgotten 

that memorable conversation, "of Saint Christo 
pher s bridge/ which revealed to him all the lofti 
ness of that beautiful soul. What was it, then, 
\that Clerc said to his friend? "That man s 



Father Clerc and his Old Comrades. 413 

destiny on earth is to aspire to the highest good, 
and that for his part he means to do this to the 
utmost of his power; that undoubtedly the joys 
Mr. has been telling him of have their se 
duction, but that they do not tempt him ; that he 
desires good for its own sake, and that it exists only 
in God. There is his hope, his ambition ; all else is 
nothing to him ; accordingly, he yields himself 
without reserve to the love of the sovereign good, 
of God, of infinite perfection." 

In relating this conversation to us Mr. 

says : " I am trying to give you the key-note of it ; 
it was aspiration towards the pure love of God. I 
had read such things in the Lives of the Saints, 5 
but hitherto I had believed them only partially ; 
this time I saw them with my own eyes, and doubt 
was henceforth impossible to me. I had the good 
sense to admire that enthusiasm and that virtue. I 
understood that Clerc could do no better than 
walk in the path he had chosen, and from that 
moment I was convinced that he would become a 
saint." 

Before starting for the novitiate Clerc, leaving 

his uniform and baggage in Mr. C s house, 

gave his sword to little Paul, the eldest of his dear 
friend s sons.* 

In the month cf December Mr. C wrote to 

Saint-Aclieul : " I will acknowledge to you, my 
dear Clerc, that your short stay in my house and 
the determination you took have given me a great 

* This weapon has since passed into the possession of a cap 
tain of a frigate, who preserves it as a relic. 



414 Alexis Clerc. 

deal to reflect upon and have slightly disturbed the 
quiet I enjoyed. 7 The thought of eternity was 
laying hold of that soul accustomed to think only of 
the interests and joys of this world. Eight days 
later another letter begins thus : "I have just been 
most cruelly tried ! My Paul, my fine and cherish 
ed boy, has been taken from us in the midst of his 
beauty and strength." And in four months Paul s 
brother was no more ! " Oh ! " cries the poor 
father, " the happy days I spent in my little house 
with my beautiful children, my dear wife, and you, 
my kind friend ! Now my two little ones are sleep 
ing side by side in the cemetery." 

What a lesson ! Was it understood ? No, not 
quite, in the beginning. The correspondence con 
tinues through fifteen years that is, from Alexis 
entrance into the novitiate until the eve of the sad 
events that placed the seal on his heroism. He 
does not spare counsels, exhortations, even re 
proaches ; but Low they all come from his heart ! 
Who could be offended at those earnest and press 
ing appeals, proofs of a boundless friendship ? He 
accuses himself of having been harsh and caustic 
in a conversation they had in Paris, and the re 
sult of which was decisive. Mr. C does not 

complain ; he renders full justice to his friend and 
thanks him for his frankness. Father Clerc re 
turns to the subject again with much humility for 
his own faults, but he is rejoiced : the soul of his 
friend is saved. " My dear friend," he writes, " it 
is a sure mark of friendship on your part to have 
written me of the great change which. God has ope- 



Father Clerc and his Old Comrades. 415 

rated in your soul ; you judged rightly of the joy 
it would afford me. I join with you in thanking 
God, and on the 12th of November I will say, for 
your intention and in gratitude for what God has 
done for you, a Mass of thanksgiving. 

" Since our last interview I have not thought of 
our long and painful conversation without sorrow, 
and I much feared that God in his goodness, seeing 
that you wandered away from him in prosperity, 
would bring you back by adversity. Fortunately he 
has not needed to do that ; and it is better, not 
only on account of the trouble you escape, but be 
cause of the greater generosity of a spontaneous 
conversion. 

" When I said on leaving you and it was to con 
clude our conversation with as little unpleasant 
ness as possible that he who followed in good faith 
no matter what road would be saved provided he 
always conformed his conduct to what he believed 
to be the truth, I acknowledge I had not the hope of 
seeing your good faith yield to the first ray of truth 
without a longer combat ; but you prove this pro 
position still more strongly. You prove it in the 
sense in which it should be most frequently (if not 
always) understood : namely, that God soon shows 
the truth to those who seek it. 

"Our discussion was difficult, painful on both 
sides, harsh on mine ; God knows, however, that 
even then I had for you the heart of a friend ; I do 
not regret it, because friendship ought not to be a 
weak condescension, and because the result has 
been so happy. 



416 Alexis Clerc. 

"Now that you share my faith, you understand 
how the certainty with which I spoke of what re 
gards it could not help rendering my assertions 
decisive, absolute ; I think that in talking with 
you I defended what is merely matter of opinion 
only with much restriction and with a disposition 
to yield readily. But it is useless to apologize for 
a line of proceeding which you judge favorably. I 
believe that before dismissing this subject I ought 
to tell you in few words the judgment I then form 
ed of you. You are no longer the same man, and 
I speak only with a good intention. 

" All just ideas in metaphysics, in religion, in 
morality, in politics, I will say even in history, had 
suffered shipwreck in your soul. There was but 
one left. Fortunately it was an important one ; with 
it all others could be reconquered : it was the idea 
of the last end. Upon that one thing, in a natural 
point of view, you always spoke correctly. It will 
be an interesting study for you to discover if it had 
the influence I believe it had upon the great change 
which has taken place in your soul. 

" Your letter of November 1st does you the 
highest honor : Qui se liumiliat, exaltdbitur. And 
in truth you wrote it in the spirit which animated 
St. Augustine when he composed his Confessions ; 
that anxiety to repair the evil one has done, to re 
treat, to acknowledge our proud weaknesses, is a 
proof of generosity. If men are forced to forget 
wrongs that are so sincerely acknowledged, so 
heartily regretted, Almighty God knows how to 
turn them into merits. Once again, errors could 



Father Clerc and his Old Comrades. 417 

not be more nobly confessed ; your confession is so 
hearty, so prompt, so complete, tbat you may see 
in it one of those special graces which God grants 
but seldom." 

Now will we see with what good-natured play 
fulness and what ingenious grace Father Clerc 
urges his friend, who defends himself as well as he 
can, to tend to perfection always and everywhere ? 
Perfection ! he wants it not only in things relating 
to God s service, but even in such as pass for in 
different, and which common opinion banishes to a 
sphere where Christianity has no right of inspec 
tion. Mr. C had said, we shall know present 
ly in what sense : " I am always a hussar, but I no 
longer love the sabretache." * His friend returns 
the words with comments : 

" ( I am always a hussar, but I no longer love the 
sabretache. 

" MY DEAR FRIEND AND BEOTHEK IN OUR LORD : 
Behold my text, and I might choose a better one ; 
however, we will develop it with a certain freedom. 

"The inclination we have for novelty is a par 
ticular grace of God, and since beginnings are 
always difficult, it was worthy of Him who gently 
conducts all things to their end to implant that 
sentiment in our hearts. Afterwards, when things 
have lost that attraction of novelty, God has again 
most kindly arranged that habit should also have a 

* It is unnecessary to explain, unless perhaps to a few un 
initiated readers, t hat the sabretache is a sort of flat pocket 

that hangs beside the sabre of certain cavalry men. Mr. C 

defended his own case by attacking that part of a hussar s 
equipment the utility of which is rather questionable. 



4i 8 Alexis Clerc. 

sweetness which will make us accomplish them 
willingly. Who can help admiring so wise and 
fatherly a providence ? 

" Let us leave the young hussar to love his 
sabretache, and the old cuirassier to no longer 
feel the chafing of the armor to which he is con 
demned. 

" But you understand that there is something 
"better than the vain-glory of the first and the in 
sensibility of the second. 

"You may tell me as much as you like that you 
were not made for perfection ; I know what to 
think about it, arid I shall always tell you what I 
think. 

" In the way of a sermon I am going to give you 
a sample of my philosophical studies of last year.* 
You are not made for perfection. Distinguo : To 
attain it, concede. To desire it, to tend to it, nego. 
And you do desire it most certainly. 

" Let us return to the sabretache : Are there, 
then, no motives possible for our acts other than 
puerility and insensibility ? Our will is our own 
and we can render it very perfect. What would 
you think of the hussar who should love the sin 
gular object in question because it is a sign that he 
serves his country and his king, that he belongs to 
a select corps which in battle is exposed to the 
greatest dangers ? From a human point of view is 
he not at least a sage, if not a hero ? 

" But if he regards his sabretache as the seal of 

* Father Clerc had just been reviewing his philosophy at 
Vaugirard. 



Father Clerc and his Old Comrades. 419 

the servitude God imposes upon him through the 
medium of his superiors, and loves it as such, is he 
not a saint ? 

"There was a young man in the Society named 
John Berchmans, the cause of whose beatification 
is now in process ; * he loved his dear cassock so 
much that he always kissed it before putting it on. 
We take the pious practice from him. Is not this, 
for us, loving the sabretache in the right way ? 

"However, one cannot always nor every day 
love the sabretache, yet a real hussar does not for 
that carry it the less and is not the less a good 
hussar. 

" You have no longer a natural attraction, taste, 
for your profession; you feel all its difficulties and 
charges ; no illusion continues to conceal them 
from you. This is because you are capable of per 
severing in it through higher motives namely, for 
the sake of serving your country, especially of 
serving God disinterestedly just there where he 
has put you ; for the sake of accomplishing the 
rude mortification and the patient sanctification of 
labor by which man attains his last end. 

" This is so true that if it should be proposed to 
you to go back to the illusions that procured you 
certain consolations, you would refuse, and would 
prefer your present sufferings. The true, the 
noble, the great this is what the heart of man re 
quires. Let us rejoice ; we shall one day possess 
the truth, the majesty, the immensity of God. 

* It has since been decided. 



42O Alexis Clerc. 

" My sermon is finished and I see you smiling; 
he will have to lower his pretensions, think you ? 
Do not be afraid, I am not so strong in act as in 
word ; still I am in earnest when I speak, but I 
will admit, if you wish, that I animate myself, that 
I intoxicate myself, with my own words. What 
else would you have us do ? Let us derive the 
least possible harm from our miseries ; let us get 
drunk with love, enthusiasm, for what is perfect; 
we will always fall far enough back in practice. 
Let us permit our aspirations to rise, to incessant 
ly rise even to the throne of God ; his goodness 
will, perhaps, answer our imperfect prayers." 

In sending us these letters, pious and cherished 
relics of which we are only the depositary, Mr. 
C adds a few words about the winning quali 
ties of his holy friend, qualities that were height 
ened by the generosity and grandeur of his Chris 
tian sentiments : " That beauty of soul and that 
grandeur of virtue did not in the least lessen the 
amiability, the playfulness of his character, and I 
have always considered him since his last stay at 
Lorient as an elect soul whom I admired while being 
just as much at ease with him as before. He 
evinced for me and mine an extraordinary friend 
ship, greater than I could have merited, although 
I loved him dearly. I have sometimes read that 
the saints have on earth had similar friendships ; 
it is thus that I* regard ours, and 1 firmly believe 
he continues ifc towards us in heaven. He was very 
fond of the two little children I lost in 1854, and 
I would like to send you the letter he wrote their 



Father Clerc and his Old Comrades. 42 1 

mother to console her, but we have mislaid it for 
the moment. I think he is with them, and that 
all three protect our family. I always believed 
that Clerc would have a magnificent death. I was 
not deceived, and I can picture to myself his joy 
at giving his life for Jesus Christ." 

Who would recognize from such language the 
man that had BO much difficulty in treating serious 
ly the ajdmirable change which religion had 
worked in his friend ? May we not also say of 

Mr. C , Quantum mutatus ab illo ! And is he 

not, in his turn, become a very consoling example 
of the so patient goodness of God and of the omni 
potence of grace ? 

Another example, not of conversion, but of the 
salutary and gentle influence Father Clerc exercised 
over those who, having known him in the world, 
deemed themselves happy to find him again just 
what his new vocation had made him. 

One day at Laval he received the visit of two 
comrades, both old navy officers. "These gentle 
men," a person acquainted with the incident tells 
us, "left the house charmed with his amiable sim 
plicity, his gayety, and his gracious holiness." 
One of the two visitors, M. de Vauguion, could 
almost call himself Father Clerc s neighbor, the 
Chateau des Alleux (near Cosse, Mayenne), where 
he resided, being only a few hours from Laval. 
As he urged the father to return his visit, the lat 
ter, in order to harmonize the inclinations of his 
zeal with the duties of friendship, went to Lcs 
Alleux and divided his time between the chdteau 



422 Alexis Clerc. 

and the parish where he gave a mission. Hardly 
had he returned to Laval when he was called back 
to his friend, who was seized with a dangerous at 
tack of inflammation of the lungs. Father Clerc 
almost flies to Les Alleux, and entering the sick 
man s room, says simply: "I have come to helj. 
you sanctify your illness." The offices of his 
ministry are gladly accepted, and, after having 
reconciled that beloved soul, he departs greatly 
consoled by the encouraging dispositions in which 
he leaves it perhaps on the very threshold of eterni- 

ty. 

M. de Vauguion recovered. In 1870, beholding 
France invaded, he returned to the service, dis 
played a brilliant valor in the face of the enemy, 
and showed himself at all times and in all places ar 
dent in the accomplishment of duty; but he received 
in the camps the germs of the disease to which he 
was to fall a victim. Named a deputy to the Na 
tional Assembly, he was at his post at Versailles 
when, April 11, 1871, he was forced to take to his 
bed. During this illness, which was his last, he 
one day anxiously enquired : " And Father Clerc 
provided he is not in the hands of those creatures 
of the Commune how I would like to hear from 
him ! " Enquiries were made, and it was learned 
that the father was confined at Maz?s. The friend 
to whom he could no longer bring the supreme 
consolations, terminated his exile with sentiments 
of most fervent piety on the 20th of April. Clerc 
had still a month to spend behind the bars. Let 
us note a circumstance that has a claim to a place 



Father Clerc and his Old Comrades. 423 

among these pious souvenirs. The Chateau des 
Alleux visited by the father in 1865 has since been 
appropriated to a use worthy of the exalted and 
Christian sentiments of its former master, and to 
day it shelters a little colony formed of our bro 
thers driven from the province of Venice, who are 
preparing by a life of recollection and study for 
the labors of the apostolate. 

For many reasons the commander of the Cassini, 
become captain of a ship, was, in Father Olerc s 
eyes, something more and better than a comrade, 
and the cordiality of their intercourse never made 
the former lieutenant forget the distance which 
honorable grades of service put between him and 
his respected chief. During long years, in writing 
to him he only addressed him as "my dear com 
mander " ; but a day came when he called him by the 
sweeter name of brother": Mr. de Plas had be 
come his brother by entering the novitiate cf the 
Society of Jesus. 

Here, in placing in my hands fifteen years of 
correspondence, I am begged to observe the great 
est discretion. I shall make this a law, and shall 
be very careful not to disturb by an untimely pub 
licity a life which, after having been well-known 
to the world, desires to shroud itself in darkness 
and silence. 

The commander honored in his old lieutenant 
the quality of religious, and the sacerdotal character 
with which he saw him clothed. The confidence he 
had always had in him was consequently increased, 
and he did not disdain to consult him, when there was 



424 Alexis Clerc. 

question of his interior or of certain duties inherent 
to his position, and of which he believed with rea 
son Father Clerc was a good judge. 

The Italian alliance, for instance, led him to 
foresee certain occasions when his conscience might 
be at variance with the exigencies of military obe 
dience^ "I have nearly recovered my peace of 
soul," he wrote, "since I have followed your ad 
vice ; still, there come to me severe squalls of dis 
gust at my career when I think that circumstances 
might have called me to figure at the banquets and 
fetes of the roi galantunmo in Naples. I am sure, 
though, that when God sends me trials of that 
sort he will make known to me what he wishes me 
to do. It appears that some of our officers have 
taken steps to avoid the honor of being decorated 
by the soi-disant King of Italy ; I am very glad of 
it." The father replied to him: "I think you 
might very well ask for a command in Chinese 
waters, and I advise you to do so. I think also 
that they will not misunderstand you, and that 
they will not appoint you to the Mediterranean 
squadron." 

Although M. de Plas. living in La Charente, was 
not as near Laval as M. de Vauguion, he obtained 
a visit from the father, who stayed with him at 
Puychein, and thence evangelized the parish of 
Samt-Ixomain. On receiving the promise of this 
visit the commander wrote: 

"DEAR, FRIEND AND REVEREND FATHER : It is 
about fourteen years since, to my proposition of 
making a cruise among the Catholic mission?, you 



Father Clcrc and his Old Comrades. 425 

replied : Magnificat anima mea Dominum ; 
your kind letter has brought to my lips that be 
ginning of the Blessed Virgin s beautiful canticle/ 

We can guess what were their conversation?, in 
which spiritual matters always had the largest 
place. Ideas of a religious vocation had vigorously 
assailed M. de Plas when he saw one of his most 
intimate friends, M. de Cuers, abandon the service 
to enter the congregation of which he became the 
superior-general. Several retreats not having 
brought him sufficient light, Father Olerc could 
only advise him to accept the employments of his 
rank, wherein opportunities would not be wanting 
for him to preach by example ; it was thus he be 
came flag-master of Admiral Bouet Willaumcz on 
board the Solferino, and major of the fleet at 
Eochefort. Meanwhile years were added to years, 
and tbe time would soon arrive for the commander 
to retire ; his inclinations for the religious life had 
only grown stronger, but he feared that his age 
was an obstacle to the realization of his wishes. 
Father Clerc then said to him : " You are well 
versed in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, 
you are acquainted with his rules for election; you 
can apply them to the decision I propose to you." 
He proposed to M. de Plas to enter the Society of 
Jesus, provided he could obtain a dispensation of 
age ; this dispensation, Father Clerc thought, 
would not be refused to a postulant of such stand 
ing. 

The election was made, the decision taken, the 
dispensation asked and obtained ; and some time 



426 Alexis Clerc. 

.**( 

afterwards the commander, whose last ties to the 
world were broken, could write to his friend from 
the novitiate of Angers: "Even as you told me, 
and promised me, go to speak, I find here great 
peace, and God repays me most generously for the 
little share of good will I brought him." Father De 
Plas novitiate, commenced at Angers, was finished 
in Eome ; and there he received from his friend 
outpourings of the heart like this: "I frankly ac 
knowledge that I also am most anxious that we 
should meet again. It is such a joy to me to think 
of you since I know that you are in the Society ; I 
am certain that you congratulate yourself every 
day more and more for the favor God has granted 
you, that you bless God from the depths of your 
heart, and every day love him more and more ; 
and this affords me sweet consolation. 7 A visit to 
the port of Cherbourg during the Lent he preached 
in one of the parishes of the city, suggests these 
reflections upon a past which neither the one nor 
the other is tempted to regret : " I have visited 
your Solferino. It is already an old tub ; the new- 
fashioned wonders give me but little desire to re 
commence. After your career, which was so diffi 
cult and so complete, you come to seek, instead of 
the rest, the honor you have gained, labor and con 
tempt in the Society. my very dear com 
mander ! let us yet once nioro rejoice that God 
gives you intelligence of what so few men can un 
derstand." 

In connection with Olerc s sojourn in Brest we 
had a glimpse of a midshipman whom he met at 



Father Clerc and his Old Comrades. 427 

tbe Conference of St. Vincent do Paul, and who, 
enlightened by ids own secret similar aspirations, 
irii mediately discerned in Clerc the still hidden 
germ of the religious vocation.* At that time mere 
fortunate than Clerc, less shackled by family cir 
cumstances, that midshipman was the first to put 
off the uniform; he entered the Socie r y of Jesus 
while his friend was on the China expedition. But 
Clerc was not slow in rejoining him. Living un 
der the same roof and eating at the same table, 
they together bore in Paris and Laval the amiable 
and sweet yoke of the Lord. Sometimes separated 
and sometimes united, according as obedience dis 
posed of them for the greater glory of God, they 
ceased not to congratulate themselves upon having 
been faithful to the rendezvous in the army of the 
Lord they had given one another while they still 
belonged to the army of the world. 

Has not the reader b?en struck as we were ? 
From the humble and pious Joubert, who one day 
betook himself to Saint Sulpice and at twenty- 
nine years of age died a deacon, to the commander 
of the Cassini, how many graces of vocation fell 
around Clerc upon officers of all ranks !f It re 
minds us of what he used to say : " We are the 
children of saints, we Frenchmen especially, more 

* Chapter iii. p. 86. 

t Let u^j recall a few names : Commander Marceau, who 
wisher! to become a Marist ; M. dp Cuers, who die I superior- 
general of Ihf Priests of theBlesspd Sacrament ; M. de G- , 

thafc midshipman won by Father Clerc to th^ practice oil bis 
religion, ami who writes to us from fhe Chartreuse of Repo- 
soir. We might add the Abbe" de Bro^lic 1 , who was ono of 
the officers of the Solferino at the same time with Commander 
de Plas. 



428 Alexis Clerc. 

truly, perhaps, than any other people of Christen 
dom, and there are few among us who have not the 
blood of saints in their veins." 

When the ardor of this generous blood is en 
kindled we are capable of all kinds of devohdness, 
of all sorts of heroism. If the laws, if the admin 
istrative customs of these days did not restrain the 
expansion of the Christian li^e, we should see on 
this fertile soil that has so many times been wa 
tered by the blood of martyrs, the grand monas 
tic and chivalric vocations of the old ages of faith 
flourishing again under a new form. This would 
be the regeneration, better still, the resurrection, 
of France. 



CHAPTEB XIV. 

CLERC AT SAINT VINCENT DE LAON AND IN THE AM* 
BULANCE OF VAUGIRARD HIS LAST VOW Si 

FATHEII CLEKC was fifty years of age and fifteen 
of religious life when, in the month of October, 
1869, his superiors sent him to the house of Saint 
Vincent at Laon to make that third probation 
which the Society of Jesus reserves for its children 
in the midst of their career, and by which it com 
pletes the formation in them of the interior man 
before admitting them to their last vows. 

St. Ignatius placed our ideal high, and he has 
spared nothing to bring us as near to it as possible. 
That holy founder has been justly represented as 
"an artisan bending eagerly over his work to fash 
ion and perfect it ; examining it, then retouch 
ing and repolishing, and yielding it to its destina 
tion only when he has exhausted all the resources 
of a patient and laborious art." * 

Behold, then, after long years consecrated partly 
to study and partly to teaching the divine and hu 
man sciences, the religious, already a priest and in 
his full maturity, called to a school still higher 
than those he has passed through the school of 

* Father de Ravignan on the " Existence and Institute of the 
Jesuits," chap. ii. 3, "The Third Probation." 
429 



430 Alexis Clerc. 

the heart (scJiola affectus). The word is charming, 
and it was invented by St. Ignatius himself, who 
had the bowels of a father as well as the genius of 
a legislator. 

This scliola affecius is, then, a new novitiate, or 
as well say a new childhood, by reason of its pupils 
simplicity of heart and docility in allowing them 
selves to be guided ; but also a manly and vigorous 
school that exacts of its disciples an active and 
spontaneous co-operation in the interior work of 
which their will is the indispensable instrument 
and their religious perfection the object. 

On the threshold of this second novitiate there is 
again the long retreat, the "Spiritual Exercises" 
during thirty days. This time it is no more the 
milk of babes, but the bread of the strong. With 
what generosity Father Clerc entered on the way that 
was marked out for him ! He was acquainted with 
it already, having for years diligently studied the 
" Exercises " ; but he was cautious about directing 
himself and relying on his own prudence. The 
notes we have, before us attest his eagerness to 
have recourse to the lights of the father instructor ; 
they show us also his combats, his fidelity in strug 
gling against desolation and dryness to the degree 
of doubling the hour of meditation, if it happened 
to him to experience only trouble and anxiety 
therein ; and, finally, they reveal his extraordinary 
mortification, for which he obtained that year a 
latitude that had been refused him when he bore 
the fatigues of the professorship. He was allowed 
to take the discipline every day except Sundays 



Saint Vincent de Laon. 43 1 

and festivals, and to fast three times a week. He 
would have liked to fast continually. 

The reproaches he addresses himself (we will do 
well not to believe them literally deserved) betoken 
an ardent desire of attaining, with God s grace, the 
highest possible degree of purity of intention. 

He asks himself if honors are an end worthy 
of him. "Honors? Shall I labor to be praised, 
to have it said of me that 1 am skilful and intelli 
gent, or some other flattering thing ? "What a re 
compensed Vani vanam. Those who are vain 
have received a vain reward. Henceforth I must 
not permit myself to be allured by the sweetness of 
praise. Contentment with self ? Still vainer and 
more dangerous. I have scarcely ever sought any 
thing else. To find peace and interior joy in one s 
duty is good ; but to seek our own satisfaction in 
our works is bad and illusive. Now, this is my 
case only too often, and, provided I have fulfilled 
my charge, I give little thought to God s service or 
my neighbor s welfare. What vanity, since such 
work is fruitless ! I myself am its principle and its 
end ; it is an occupation, not a work. It would be 
worse still to take delight in our virtue. Thank 
God, I do not think I am such a fool as that ! I 
have so little material for illusion on that sub 
ject." 

A little further on he says : " What profit have 
I derived from so much even painful labor ? 
What ! nothing else than being forgotten ? Ah I 
my God, let not all of it perish. And what ad 
vantage has it been to others ? How small and 



432 Alexis Clerc. 

rare are its fruits 1 Oh ! if I had but vivified my 
activity by union with God, by prayer, by abnega 
tion, and by making everything conduce to the 
glory of God ! " 

It is only saints who judge themselves thus. 
Has not the Holy Spirit said : "The just is first 
accuser of himself " ? But he adds immediately : 
" His friend cometh and shall search him " (Prov. 
xviii. 17). We have, then, a right to examine the se- 
Yere judgment our holy brother passed upon him 
self. 

The ardor of his love for Jesus Christ bursts 
forth at these words of the holy old man Simeon : 
" Quid viderunt oculi mei salutare tuum ! " Eor 
my eyes have seen thy salvation. "I implore 
thee, my God! command this light to shine 
upon my soul. Thou art the sun, thou art splen 
dor ; let thy radiance dazzle my eyes, so that hence 
forth they can see naught else ; let every other love 
be extinguished, every desire stifled, every curiosity 
destroyed. What need has he to learn and know 
new things who knows eternal truth ? What is 
there beautiful and seductive to him who has had 
a glimpse of thy beauty ? A single ray of thy 
glory can effect all this in our souls. We can live 
afterwards, but we are as though dead; we see 
without seeing, we hear without hearing, or, bet 
ter, we see and hear Jesus in all things and every 
where." 

But now the light grows dim to his eyes. He 
listens, he hears nothing ; none of those words in 
which are recognized the accents of the Beloved. 



Saint Vincent de Laon. 433 

The following page, no lines of which I am willing 
to suppress, is the faithful picture of a soul burn 
ing with the desire of perfection, but at the same 
time humbly submissive to God, who is master of 
his gifts : 

"I earnestly beg for a bright light by which to 
regulate the future, a profound sentiment of the 
desire of serving God by that means ; it seems to 
me I have done all that is possible to obtain 
it, that I have neglected absolutely nothing of 
what was prescribed, recommended, and of what I 
believed I could do on my side fidelity, prayer, 
mortifications. I have omitted nothing, and yet I 
have not obtained that abundant grace. It is 
nevertheless accord ing to Christian wisdom, since I 
ask only to know what God desires of me, and 
since it is with the most intense desire, and, I be 
lieve, with entire good will, that I say : Quid me 
vis facere? What wilt thou have me to do ? (St. 
Paul s words at the moment of his conversion, 
Acts ix. 6). Moreover, that desire, good in itself, 
is likewise good for me, who would receive from it 
so powerful an excitation, so strong an impulse. 
Yes, Lord, I ask a grace of conversion that will 
make of me from this day a thoroughly new man. 

" Perhaps the Lord answers me : 

" Is not the power of making the long retreat as 
well as thou couldst a great grace which I have 
given thee ? Is not this eager desire thou dost ex 
perience another ? Qui biberit, sitiet adlmc 
Whosoever drinketh shall thirst again. 

" Thou wouldst be satisfied ; and dost thou not 



434 Alexis Clerc. 

know that that would be a misfortune ? Dost 
thou not know what I ask of thee, and if thou 
knowest it why dost thou desire more light ? I give 
thee the measure that is suitable for thee. I wish 
to see thee walking with the imperfect light which 
I communicate to thee ; is faith, then, without 
obscurity ? Is it less certain for being obscure ? 

" Hast thou not to counsel and calm thee my 
servant, to whom I will that thou shouldst frankly 
open thy heart ? Is it not more excellent for thee 
to be obliged to have recourse to him, than if thou 
shouldst walk in confidence ? Wouldst thou not 
be exposed to walking yery soon in confidence in 
thyself ? 

" Is not this the regular and paternal order of 
my supernatural providence ? and why demand a 
revelation which is not necessary ? 

" Extraordinary graces would make thee vain, 
and the first answer to thy prayer is to correct thy 
self-love instead of giving it nourishment. 

" Besides, hast thou not strength sufficient to 
walk in the execution of thy resolutions ? 

They are good, wise, taken in the sincere in 
tention of my service, and under my inspiration 
certain though concealed ; canst thou doubt that I 
will aid thee to accomplish them ? 

" Thou dost hope much from a great move 
ment of love which 1 might give thee. In the first 
place that movement would be fleeting, and in the 
second place it would leave thee still in need of 
my continual help. 

" This help, which would always be necessary 



Saint Vincent de Laon. 435 

to thee, shall always be sufficient; I will always 
give it to thee. 

" ( Thou wishest to feel it ; but dost thou feel 
the help by which I sustain all thy faculties, thy 
whole being, by which I concur in all thy acts ? 
Such is my conduct very strong and very gentle, 
as well in the order of grace as in the order of na 
ture. 

" < Moreover, is not the state thy soul has been 
in for twenty-five days a grace thou canst easily 
enough authenticate ? Is it a doubtful sign of my 
assistance ? 

" Thou wouldst like more ; but when I should 
have given thee more, wouldst thou not want still 
more ? Since thou knowest that thou dost act 
with me and by me in thy resolutions, that should 
suffice thee, and thou shouldst blindly confide thy 
self to my love (it shall be done). 

" ( What more beautiful device could I give thee 
than Pro corde meo, per ipsum cor meum, et cum 
ipso, et in ipso For my heart, by my heart, with 
it and in it ? 

" * Thy desire pleases me. Pray earnestly to my 
Heart, to that of my Mother, and leave me to 
answer thy prayer in my own good time. 7 " 

" All for the Heart of Jesus, by that Heart, with 
it and it it " such, then, was Father Clerc s watch 
word on coming out of his long retreat. Finding 
himself in the school of the heart, it was not a bad 
inspiration for him to take for master, model, and 
support, the Heart of his God. November 25 he 
pronounced in the hands of the father instructor 



436 Alexis Clerc. 

an Act of Consecration to the Sacred Heart of 
Jesus,* "for which I rejoice in the Lord," he 
wrote, " giving thanks a thousand times to the 
goodness of God and to the tenderness of the Sa 
cred Heart of our Lord Jesus Christ." He places 
his resolutions under the auspices of that adorable 
Heart, and they consist in nothing less than that 
perfect abnegation which sums up the whole sci 
ence of the saints, and which St. Ignatius entitles 
the third degree of humility. " In this matter," he 
wrote, " there can be no deliberation about what is 
necessary ; we must strongly resolve, and then exe 
cute, cost what it may. Now, this necessity ia 
found for me in the third degree of humility and 
in the eleventh rule of the Summary,f and I de 
sire to have it always present to my mind." As to 
the motives of his consecration to the Sacred Heart, 
I confine myself to this one : "I believe that this 
devotion gives a right to an immediate effusion of 
the Sacred Heart of our Lord into our hearts." 

Fifteen years before, when making at Saint 
Acheul his first long retreat, he had taken these 
same generous resolutions. It is his merit and his 
honor to have renewed them with a thorough 
knowledge of all they comprehend, and with a sin 
cerity that shows especially in the means by which 
he ensures their execution. 

It is easy to imagine how he passed that year 

*See Appendix. 

Ha tbe "Third Degree of Humility " and the "Eleventh 
Rule of the Summary " St. Ignatius inculcates the doctrine of 
desiring and asking- for humiliations for the sake of imitating 
our Lord. Note of Translator. 



Saint Vincent de Laon. 

devoted entirely to the exercises of the interior life, 
and to works in which zeal displays iiself only un 
der the humblest forms. The father instructor ad 
mired his docility, rendered more meritorious by 
his age. He writes us: "Ho was always found 
ready not only to execute the commands given 
him, but to anticipate the wishes of those who held 
the place of God in his regard." As to his breth 
ren, they were at once edified and charmed, and 
that virtue, so austere in its foundations, left the 
pleasantest impression upon them all. One of 
them writes us : " It was my privilege to spend 
with him the year which preceded his glorious 
death, the good year of the third probation. No 
body appreciated better than he that favor which 
the Society grants its children. Twenty times was 
he heard congratulating himself on the fact that 
an old man like Mm could enjoy such a year. He 
was a model for each one of us. Notwithstanding 
his fifty years of age, he had all the simplicity, I will 
add, even the graces and amiability, of the religious 
childhood. He would ask like a child all the little 
permissions prescribed by the rule. To him they 
were none of them little. He knew, he had a pre 
sentiment, perhaps, that by a continual abnegation 
in little things he was preparing himself for the 
greatest for the apostolate, for martyrdom. He 
was always ready for any service, and he seemed to 
take pleasure in charging himself with some extra 
employment or some disagreeable task. Of a lively 
imagination and a sprightly disposition, he was a 
very delightful talker, and his narratives were en- 



438 Alexis Clerc. 

chanting. I think no one ever tired of his conver 
sation, which united the useful and the agreeable. 
His information was extremely varied, and he 
joined to a great deal of wit an exquisite good 
sense whic i enabled him to form a just apprecia 
tion of things. Need we add that during the 
hours of recreation and promenade all were glad to 
be near him ? Full of charity for persons, he had 
no toleration for error, which he had the gift of dis 
covering under no matter what disguise. The rec 
titude of his judgment made him abhor as by in 
stinct that mixture of principles called liberal Ca 
tholicism, and more than once 1 have heard him 
stigmatize that deplorable system of conciliation as 
energetically as has since our Holy Father Pope 
Pius IX., in saying that it is a veritable scourge." 

In the house of St. Vincent they occupied them 
selves but little with politics, and they had only a 
very vague knowledge of what was transpiring in 
the exterior world. Still, they could not be igno 
rant of the commotion excited by the Council of the 
Vatican ; and in the anticipation of an approach 
ing struggle between the Revolution and the 
Church they could not be sure of the part that 
would be taken by the imperial government, jeal 
ous of reviving its prestige even at the price of the 
most compromising alliances. But they were very 
few who saw therein a peril and menace to the 
peace of Europe. We remember how in the month 
of April, 1870, under the liberal and pacific minis 
try of M. Emile Ollivier, all was couleur de rose ; 
and who then thought of the black clouds that 



The Ambulance of Vaugirard. 439 

were seen in the horizon on the morrow of Sadowa ? 
Father Clerc did not share the general illusion ; he 
foresaw the approaching tempest, and from that 
moment predicted it. One of his old comrades 
having come to St. Vincent to see him, they spoke 
of the different careers which young men might 
enter. The father pronounced in favor of the mili 
tary career, and as his friend did not immediately 
agree with him, he said : x "There is going to be a 
general breaking up, when and how I know not, 
but certainly there will be one before long." Upon 
which his interlocutor adds : " Without having 
much faith in the then existing order of things, I 
did not suppose I was listening to a prophecy that 
would so soon be verified." 

Pour months after this conversation we were not 
only in full tide of war, but in full tide of breaking 
up, and beaten blow after blow at Wissembourg 
and at Reichshoffen while awaiting the catastrophe 
of Sedan. Under such circumstances Father 
Clerc s place was at the camps or in the ambu 
lances ; he was first sent to Cherbourg to prepare 
the sailors for the struggle by reconciling them to 
God ; after which he was assigned his post of de- 
votedness and peril in the ambulance of the college 
of Vaugirard, and he did not leave it during the 
entire fciege. He was there joined by his old com 
mander, now Father De Plas, and both reaped in 
the exercise of charity what they had together sown 
in their Chinese expedition. 

Father Clerc directed the ambulance, and he 
profited by his position to make himself the servant 



44 Alexis Clerc. 

of all and to secure a large share of the roughest 
and most mortifying hospital employments. Then 
was seen what treasures of abnegation he had 
amassed during the course, of his religious life. I 
speak from the testimony of ocular witnesses, who, 
without any intention of watching, did not lose 
sight of him, and still preserve the impression of 
the admirable example he daily gave them. 

His daily regulation was as follows : At half -past 
five he ascended to the altar and celebrated the Holy 
Sacrifice of the Mass, and after his thanksgiving 
went down to the ambulance, where he commenced 
by reciting his breviary. That done, he belonged 
entirely to his dear wounded soldiers. He first 
visited the most suffering, consoled them, distribut 
ed little comforts in a word, rendered them all the 
cervices the tenderest charity could suggest. Then 
he pursued his visits, going from bed to bed, ad 
dressing a kind good-morning to each, informing 
himself of the needs of the body as well as of the 
soul, always ready to satisfy both. 

The hour of repast being come, he recited the 
Benedicite, to which the patients responded. After 
this he put on an apron, joined the servants, and 
distributed the vegetables, soup, etc. ; then, as a 
tender mother would have done for her child, he 
assisted those to eat whose wounds prevented them 
from using their limbs. 

When he had himself taken his meal he almost 
always came to the ambulance to pass his recrea 
tion, to the great delight of the invalids. 

The afternoon was a repetition of the morning ; 



The Ambulance of Vaugirard. 441 

and this routine, so cruel to nature, was renewed 
every day, unless after some engagement the father 
judged his presence more useful outside than in 
the ambulance. Then he went to the scene of ac 
tion to administer the sacraments to the dying, 
and to relieve and encourage the wounded who 
were awaiting the college omnibus. He was seen at 
Champigny and at Bagneux exposing himself to a 
lively fire without showing the least sign of ner 
vousness. At Bagneux the fighting was in the 
village itself. When the omnibus returned for the 
second time it did not bring back Father Clerc. 
Very uneasy, the father rector has himself con 
ducted immediately to the place where Father 
Clerc disappeared, and this at the risk of falling 
in the midst of the enemy, who have, it is said, re 
taken the village that was carried in the morning 
by the French, who now fight while retreating. 

They arrive ; they anxiously hurry over the still 
smoking battle-field. What is not the surprise 
and joy of father rector and his companions when, 
after a quarter of an hour s search, they find 
Father Olerc seated on a rock and reciting his 
breviary as tranquilly as if in his own room ! 

When the wounded arrived at the ambulance, he 
himself stanched the blood that flowed from their 
wounds, and with a sponge bathed their lacerated 
and blood-stained members. He. also washed their 
feet, happy to imitate in that his Divine Master, 
not by a mere ceremony, but by repeated acts in 
which humility and charity had for their insepara 
ble companion a most meritorious mortification. 



442 Alexis Clcrc. 

He changed their linen and bandages, spared no 
pains to procure them some alleviation, and with 
his own hands several times a day dressed the most 
repulsive sores. 

How touched those poor fellows were ! It would 
have needed a heart of bronze to resist so much 
charity ; and, thank God ! our soldiers are not so 
constructed. We are told of one of them, Renau- 
din, a native of Paris, and a blacksmith by trade : 
After only fifteen days of service he had his thigh 
fractured at Champigny, and was left seven or 
eight hours moaning on the battle-field. Father- 
Clerc took a special interest in him and induced, 
him to approach the sacraments several times. 
There was no service too abject for him to render 
this poor boy. " You do not know," the latter 
said one day to another father " you do not know 
how good Father Clerc is. He has done for me 
what my own father would never have done." 
Emotion overcame him. He could not continue 
his meal, and not knowing how to express himself, 
he repeated, weeping: "If you knew how I love 
him ! " A few days afterwards he died in the best 
of dispositions. 

Father Clerc confessed, almost unaided, the twq 
hundred patients of the ambulance. On Satur 
days and the vigils of feasts, he exhorted them to 
perform their Christian duties, and one by one 
they were seen going to kneel at his feet, where 
they received pardon. On Sundays, attentive to 
having them hear Mass, he so arranged as to 
make it easy, and even pleasant, for them. In 



The Ambulance of Vaugirard. 443 

the midst of so many gloomy days came Christmas 
eve, and all of a sudden it grew luminous in the 
college chapel with a light which had seemed to 
have for ever disappeared, and which was the 
sweetest of surprises to the poor victims of the 
furies of war. Thanks to the co-operation of a 
certain number of pupils who still frequented the 
school as day scholars, and for whom care had been 
taken to prepare beds, the Midnight Mass was cele 
brated with a solemnity modified, it is true, but 
very unexpected under these sad circumstances ; 
and singing, accompanied by organ, violoncello, and 
flute, was heard during the sacred rite. Besides 
the kind friends whose ingenious charity multiplied 
the resources and almost the pleasures of the am 
bulance, there were noticed among the worship 
pers Admiral de Montaignac, who commanded the 
fourth division and had his headquarters in the 
college, the son of the admiral, and several officers 
of his staff. At the moment of Communion the 
pupils, through a delicate sentiment, spontaneously 
gave place to the soldiers who had had the honor 
of shedding their blood for France. It was not 
without emotion that they saw Father Clerc sup 
porting to the communion rail two young men of 
eighteen years of age, who, much weakened by 
their wounds, walked one on each side of him, lean 
ing on his arm. The other patients, retained by 
the gravity of their illness upon beds of suffering, 
were not deprived of the heavenly food ; they 
could not come to kneel at the foot of the altar, 
but our Lord went to them, preceded by the long 



Alexis Clerc. 

procession of their comrades carrying lighted candles 
as they marched in good order in two straight 
lines ; and when the touching and pious ceremony 
was over, all those hear Is of youth and of soldiers 
were but one, and nothing was wanting to the 
miraculous serenity of that night, when the peace 
of heaven was given once more to men of good 
will. 

Such are the souvenirs of the ambulance of Vau- 
girard. We are further told that, in spite of the 
extraordinary cold of that cruel winter, Father 
Clerc would never kindle a fire in his room ; that 
during the entire siege he gave himself not a day 
nor an hour of respite, never going out excepting 
to carry assistance to the dying and the wounded. 
These details, certainly very incomplete, do not the 
less give us an idea of an uncommon virtue, and 
those who furnished them were careful to add : 
" Having no suspicion that he was an elect of the 
Lord for martyrdom, we did not pay any very great 
attention to his actions, which were always full of 
abnegation ; and then he was so humble that he 
always found means to have them pass unper- 
ceived." Was it not precisely this which rendered 
them more holy and more precious in God s sight ? 

He left the ambulance of Vaugirard only to go to 
the School Saint-Genevieve to prepare himself by 
an eight days retreat for pronouncing his last 
vows, the date of which ceremony was fixed for the 
1st of March. 

This was his last retreat. After the wave of the 
Commune had passed, we found in his room which 



His Last Vows. 445 

for two monthfe, had been occupied by the Feder 
ates, some sheets of paper disdained by them, and 
stiil bearing the imprint of their heels, on which 
our beloved brother had written his thoughts and 
resolutions up to the eve of his solemn profession. 

What humility in the reproaches he addresses him 
self regarding the six months that have just elapsed, 
and during which he was the admiration of those 
who saw him daily at his work ! fi Why," he says, 
" did I not regulate and arrange my life better while 
I was employed in the ambulance ? . . . 
How changeable I have been ! how inconsistent ! 
What a way to keep my resolutions of the Third 
Year ! Truly I am ashamed and almost surprised." 

Then, alluding to a conversation with Father 
Ducoudray, who seconds his love of humiliation and 
confirms him in the lowly opinion he has of him 
self : " The disorder of my actions is not, as good 
father rector says, lack of order. On the con 
trary, all in my life has its order, its place, hours, 
means. Everything is foreseen and ordered by the 
rules, the employment, the superior, or election ; 
when all that is accounted for there remains very 
little else. Mine is not the insubordination and 
want of discipline of a troop of mobiles ; it is the 
insubordination and irregularity of a trained army, 
and disorder is introduced into my life not through 
want of rule or of knowledge, but by weariness of 
restraint, and by the indifference and inattention 
of the heads that is, of my will." Fortunately 
we know that on such subjects he must not be 
taken at his word. 



446 Alexis Clerc, 

I will copy the last page inspired by the medita 
tion of the Two Standards : 

" Our Lord presents us his cross, saying : In hoc 
signo vinces Under this standard thou shalb con 
quer. We may imagine him discoursing with us : 

" That contempt which thou dost hold in such 
horror, hast thou not merited it by thy sins? And 
when thou didst offer to suffer everything to expi 
ate them, didst thou except the shame which is 
their just wages ? 

" * What is due thee for thy bad inclinations, for 
thy weaknesses and relaxations ? Where are thy 
merits and thy virtues, thy services, thy great deeds? 
Wilt thou not that all justice be accomplished ? Dost 
thou not need to be thus kept in thy place and is 
it not necessary to master thy vanity and pride ? 

" * Must thou not abase thyself before God ? 
And this is what thou dost in abasing thyself before 
the outrage he sends thee by men. Dost thou not 
desire to render him a worship worthy of him ? 
Do something great for his honor. Wilt thou not 
imitate me ? It is my voice that urges thee, it is 
my hand that presents thee the cross ; I have 
borne it before thee, and I did so to encourage thee 
and show thee an example. I give it to thee ; as it 
is my triumph and my glory, it will also be thine. 
And as it is the pledge of my love for thee, it will 
be the pledge of thy love for me. 

" O crux ! bona crux ! " * 



* This is the salutation the Apostle St. Andrew addressed to 
the cross upon which he was about to die. Father Clerc will 
repeat these words at Mazas in saluting the walls of his cell. 



His Last Vows. 447 

Animated: with these sentiments of profound humi 
lity and of passionate love for Jesus crucified, he 
made his solemn profession on Sunday, the 19th of 
March and the feast of St. Joseph, in the hands of 
Father Ducoudray, rector of the School Sainte- 
Genevieve, whose blood was to mingle with his in 
the immolation of the 24th of May. 

The Commune was already on foot. The pious 
friends who took part in that private festival cele 
brated on the morning of Sunday, had some difficul 
ty in regaining their residence through the barri 
cades erected on the sides of the hill Sainte-Gene- 
vieve to cut off the approaches of the Pantheon to 
the regular troops. The evening before, the assas 
sins of Generals Lecomte and Clement Thomas 
had preluded in the Rue des Hosiers the summary 
executions of La Eoquette and the Rue Haxo. 

Notwithstanding the excitement in the streets 
and each day s uncertainty of the morrow, the 
fervent religious set himself to work to prepare the 
course of special mathematics with which he had 
been charged. After various arrangements, which 
came to naught, it was decided that the opening of 
the classes prevented by the insurrection should 
take place April 12, in the country house of Athis. 
Father Clerc, who remained in Paris until he 
should be needed, argued ill from what he saw 
around him : the lack of discipline of the troops, 
of which he had been so often a witness during the 
siege ; the weakness of the government that at such 
a moment doubted its own right ; the demoraliza 
tion, the want of harmony and of conviction and 



448 Alexis Clerc. 

energy among upright men, all saddened him pro 
foundly, and he was among those who were not 
deceived about the gravity of the evil which was 
upon us long before it burst out in the disorganiza 
tion of the public authority. He was sometimes 
heard to say : " Moriamur in simplicitate nostra 
Let us die in our simplicity. . . . There is nothing 
left but to die; there is no longer any room for 
honest people here below." The playful tone in 
which he spoke these words in nowise concealed 
their bitterness. 

Towards the end of the month a devoted lady, 
who had been unable to assist at the ceremony of 
the 19th, came to pay him a visit of apology and 
politeness. As she had had to cross several bar 
ricades to reach the house, she asked him : "Fa 
ther, do you not fear for your houses and your 
persons in Paris?" "Yes, indeed, madame," he 
replied ; " I fear as much more as Paris is more 
guilty ; it needs to be purified by blood. . . . Al 
mighty God should take the blood of forty of us." 

He did not bargain, as is plain to see, and he 
supposed that others had the same ardor for sacri 
fice with which he was burning. Perhaps God 
took only choice victims, so as to reduce the number 
without diminishing the value of the holocaust. 
Who knows ? . . . 

" Two days before his imprisonment/ says one of 
his colleagues of the School Sainte-Gerievieve, " I 
was struck by his persistence in keeping in his 
room, and my impression was that foreseeing his 
life was in danger, he congratulated himself on 



His Last Vows. 449 

having it to offer to God. I begged him to take 
precautions ; his reply gave me reason to believe 
that he desired to make the sacrifice of his life." 

In fact, he had always had that desire, perhaps 
even with the presentiment of the kind of death 
that was reserved for him. 

Enumerating all that we ought to cheerfully ac 
cept in order to correspond to the genuine military 
spirit of the Society of Jesus, he wrote : 

"A dangerous post . . . wearisome brilliant 
. . . obscure bullets . . . sickness." 

And he was persuaded that God would spare him 
the trial of sickness. 

There remained, then, the bullets. But at the 
moment when he threw those words on paper (No 
vember, 1869) who could have anticipated the Com 
mune of 1871 and the fusillade of La Koquette ? 



CHAPTER XV. 

FATHER CLERC PRISONER AND VICTIM FOR LOVE OF JESUS 
CHRIST MAZAS LA ROQUETTE. 

WE have now reached the part of this cherished 
and sacred task where we have before us a guide 
whose authority is great, and whom we shall follow 
step by step. Who is not acquainted with the 
"Acts of the Captivity and Death of Fathers 
Olivaint, Ducoudray, Caubert, Clerc, and De 
Bengy," by Father Armand de Ponlevoy ? One 
cannot read those truthful pages, written by the 
sympathetic witness of a bloody immolation, with 
out thinking of the era of the persecutions and 
of the catacombs. There are found the most of 
the letters Father Clerc wrote in the confine 
ment of the Conciergerie and Mazas ; I shall 
only need to reproduce them. Still, having to 
occupy himself with the five hostages at once, 
Father de Ponlevoy has neglected several docu 
ments of real interest, but which would have 
made his remarkably clear narration too com 
plicated. So he has left me something to glean. 
I gladly gather up a few ears, which will not be the 
least ornament of my sheaf. 

Father de Ponlevoy observed everything from 
Versailles, where the unanimous advice of his con- 
suiters had fixed him so that he might continue to 
450 



Prisoner and Victim for Love of Jesus. 45 1 

correspond with all the religious of whom he was 
superior. It was to Versailles that Fathers Oliv- 
aint and Ducoudray, and the other hostages, wrote 
to him from their prison. He replied, but his let 
ters never reached them. What he suffered dur 
ing that lime is unutterable. The wounds of his 
heart bled for three years longer, and then he died, 
a victim of his boundless devotcdaess and his pa 
ternal anguish, alas ! too often renewed. 

Here, in all their simplicity, are the incidents 
just as he presents them in the " Acts." I abridge his 
recital : 

After twelve o clock on the night of the Monday 
in Holy Week, that is, in the first hour of Holy 
Tuesday, April 4, the School Sainte-Genevieve is 
completely surrounded by a battalion of National 
Guards armed to the teeth. They knock with re 
doubled blows at the door of No. 18. The brother 
porter gets up and says that he will go for the keys, 
deposited, as customary, in the father rector s 
room ; the door will then be opened in a moment. 
That moment appears long to our braves ; the 
bugle sounds three times by way of summons, and 
a general discharge upon all the windows alarms 
the neighborhood. Father Ducoudray very soon 
understood that all protest was useless ; his per 
fectly cool and dignified manner caused those mis 
creants to exclaim : " What a man ! and what 
energy of character ! " During the night the house 
was thoroughly ransacked. They pretended they 
were searching for arms ; they found none. Their 
especial desire was the cash-box ; it had been drain- 



452 Alexis Clerc. 

ed by the expenses of the siege. Then they set 
about securing persons whom the} .retained as hos 
tages ; and that was the recompense of the care be 
stowed for six months on the wounded in the am 
bulance of the school. 

At five o clock the bugle gives the signal of de 
parture for the Prefecture of Police, and the pris 
oners file off between two lines of National G-uards. 
At their head and a little distance from the others 
walks the father rector ; then follow Fathers Fer 
dinand Billot.* Emile Chauveau, Alexis Clerc, 
Anatole de Bengy, Jean Bellanger, Theodore de 
Eegnon, and Jean Tanguy, and Brothers Benoifc 
Darras, Gabriel Dedebat, Eene Piton, Pierre Le 
Falher, and seven domestics. On the top of the 
bridge Saint Michel, near the entrance to the city, 
Father Ducoudray turns, and with a radiant look 
says to Father Chauveau, who is nearest to him : 
"Ah! well, Ibant gaudentes ; is it not so?" 
" What did he say to you ? " the uneasy guards ask 
Father Chauveau. The latter repeats the suspect 
ed phrase. "God knows how much the guards 
understood of it," adds the historian. True imita 
tors of the apostles, they indeed went . . . re- 



* Father Billot has just been taken from the School Sainte- 
G-enevieve alter more than twenty years of professorship. He 
is a great loss. He was highly esteemed by the illustrious 
Cauchy, his first teacher, who ev^n thought of bequeathing 
him Ids unpublished works, some of which npeded a contiuua- 
tor rather than an editor. Endowed with superior penetra 
tion and possassing extensive learning of more than one sort, 
he coul 1 with honor have filled a chair of theology. He carries 
with him the regrets of a crowd of young men whose hearts 
he won by his gentle virtue, while by his devotedness he 
facilitated their admission to the Polytechnic School. 



Prisoner and Victim for Love of Jesus. 453 

joicing that they were accounted worthy to suffer 
reproach for the name of Jesus " (Acts v. 41). 

Arrived at the Prefecture of Police, the bugles 
sound loudly to announce the success of the expe 
dition and the rich prize that has been secured. I 
spare the reader the gross abuse that welcomes the 
captives, and the hasty interrogatory to which 
Father Ducoudray is put. The father rector is 
shut up alone in a cell of the Conciergerie ; the 
others are led to the Prison du Depot, and crowded 
with thirty men into a large room used hitherto 
for the disreputable women the police pick up at 
night in the gutters of the capital. 

When he found himself thus separated from the 
rest, Father Ducoudray, through religious spirit 
and love of the common life, asked and obtained 
the privilege of having at lea.st one of his brethren 
for a companion. He named Father Alexis Clerc, 
who gladly responded to that call which summoned 
him to death. As soon as they were together they 
organized a little supply service in favor of their 
brothers, deprived like themselves of the most nec 
essary articles, and each of them despatched notes, 
which reached their destination, and on which may 
still be seen the stamp and endorsement of the 
prison officers. Father Clerc wrote to his ever-de- 
yoted brother, and was not long in receiving, ac 
cording to his request, towels, handkerchiefs, and 
wrought-iron spoons, the apparition of all which 
caused a sudden flash of joy in the common hall. 
" Cleanliness being a great consolation to a pris 
oner," Father Clerc hastened to thank his sister- 



454 Alexis Clerc. 

in-law, who in the absence of her husband had 
provided everything ; his religious brethren blessed 
the attentive charity which procured them those 
^ humble gifts and doubled their value. 

"A jailor of the Depot of the Prefecture, 
charged witli visiting the two recluses in their 
common cell, gave these details of how they lived 
together : They want for nothing, are gay and 
appear very happy, and pray together almost con 
tinually. Father Ducoudray had frequently ex 
pressed this wish to one of his most intimate con 
fidants: ( Ah ! if you and I could ascend some 
mountain with our crucifix, we would know how 
to pray to God ! The wish was granted." * 

But that prison was too good for our dear cap 
tives, who were able therein to still find a reflection 
of the religious life and to breathe the perfume of 
fraternal charity; consequently they only passed 
through it. Thursday evening, April 6, a prison 
carriage, divided into compartments carefully 
closed and separated one from another, bore them 
and his Grace the Archbishop of Paris and Presi 
dent Bon jean from the Conciergerie to Mazas. 
Father de Bengy, brought from the common hall, 
was also a part of the load, and a cell awaited him 
in the prison of Mazas. Later (April 13) the same 
prison received Father Olivaint and Father Cau- 
bert, arrested in our house of the Rue de Sevres on 
the evening of April 4. April 18 two other Jesuits 

* "Acts of the Captivity and Death of the Rev. Frs. P. Oli 
vaint, L. Ducoudray, J. Cauhert, A. Clerc, and A. de Bengy," 
by Fr. A. de Ponlevoy, eleventh edition, page 58. Our refer 
ences are always to this edition. 



Prisoner and Victim for Love of Jesus. 45 5 

were likewise confined at Mazas, but they escaped 
death. As to the sixteen inmates of the School 
Sainte-Genevieve, fathers, brothers, and servants, 
who were left in the common hall of the Concier- 
gerie, for some time their fate was uncertain. 
Then there was a moment of indulgence at the 
Hotel de Ville, under the influence of which they 
were released, April 12, after nine days of im 
prisonment. 

Behold, then, Father Clerc entirely separated 
from his brethren and shut up in his narrow cell 
of the prison of Mazas ! Assuredly the habitation 
is not a cheerful one. It begins to be pretty well 
known, so many honest people had, thanks to the 
Commune, leisure to make a personal study of it, 
and have since published exact descriptions. It is 
certain, however, that our dear prisoner did not 
there lose the joy of his soul; on the contrary, he 
experienced an unutterable dilatation of heart. He 
saw our Lord s cross glowing upon those naked 
and cold walls, and he cried out as he entered, 
lona Crux! 

Then he remembered that there, as well as in his 
cell of the Kue Lhomond, he had his duty to fulfil. 
He was professor of special mathematics, and the 
classes were to be reopened at the country house of 
Athis. Will he ever rejoin them ? It is very 
doubtful ; but no matter, his duty for the moment 
is to prepare his course, and forthwith he sets him 
self to the work. In the first letter he addresses 
to his brother Jules he asks not only for a Bible 
and a breviary, but also for books of analytic geo- 



45 6 Alexis Clerc. 

me try, and asks for them with an earnestness as 
much more meritorious as those subjects with 
which he has been surfeited have now less attrac 
tion for him. One of his religious brothers, who 
knew him well, has gone so far as to say that that 
anticipatory preparation of his classes in his cell at 
Mazas was neither more nor less than a heroic act. 
" I am in good health," he remarks in concluding 
his letter, "am quite contented, and, with those 
books, shall indefinitely bid defiance to the ennui 
which has not yet presented itself." Imagine, if 
you can, a man more easily contented. 

The feast of Easter (April 9) comes, and the 
poor prisoner s most sensible privations are not 
those confinement inflicts upon nature. But the 
" Alleluia " which sings Christ s victory over death 
does not the less resound in the depths of his heart, 
and, borrowing the language of the martyrology 
for the day, he writes to his beloved brother : 

" MY DEAR JULES : To-day is the feast of feasts, 
the Christian Passover, the day the Lord has 
made ! For us there was neither Mass to say nor 
to hear, but there was joy and peaco in the Lord. 

"As the good things you have sent are much 
more plentiful than I need, your intention of com 
ing to the assistance of my companions in captivity 
is manifest to me, and, if I am happy to express 
my gratitude for your fraternal friendship, I am 
far more so to thank you for your charity ; it is 
the most excellent of all the virtues, and the one 
which will be replaced by nothing more excellent 
even in heaven. Therefore I not only thank you, 



Prisoner and Victim for Love of Jesus. 457 

but I congratulate you, because I know that God 
will not leave you without a reward for your zeal 
in providing for the wants of those who suffer for 
his name. 

" It is to me a new and lively consolation to see 
you associated with our tribulation. I am not only 
happy and proud of it on my own account, but 
also on yours ; and I hope that it is for you and 
your family the first of a series of graces more abun 
dant than ever, which God will bestow upon you. 

" Do not worry about me any longer ; place your 
family in safety that is the most urgent duty. 
Besides, I have no want to make known to you. I 
have sufficient linen, and I have money to procure 
me food. 

" This morning I was ready to take my break 
fast ; your packages arrived just in time; I did 
honor to all of them. That opportune conjunc 
ture is one of the thousand delicacies of the provi 
dence of our Father who is in Heaven. May he bo 
blessed for it, and may the instrument he has 
chosen as the channel of his benefits to me be 
likewise blessed ! I am unwilling to ask of the 
prefecture permission to take books to my cell, 
not through fear of a refusal, nor to spare myself 
the trouble of being grateful, bufc for better and 
higher reasons. Besides, with the Bible I have the 
wherewithal to nourish my soul for a longer time 
than I shall be in prison, even though I should 
stay till I die of old age. I hope that Charles, 
who teaches me to meet misfortune patiently, will 
at last learn of me to bear it with, our Lord ; he 



45 8 Alexis Clerc. 

would then find the secret of suffering joyfully 
and with fruit." * 

After this letter there is a long silence, and it is 
not till fifteen days later (Saturday, April 2xJ) that 
Father Clerc succeeds in haying the following lines 
reach his brother. They issue from a prison si 
lent as the tomb, and whose echoes are awakened 
only by the cannonade : " The cannon are heard 
thundering night and day ; so the forts are being 
disputed, and we, after the Prussians, are besieging 
Paris ; but the Prussians would have had to work 
a good while yet to take it by main force. I con 
clude from this and you see that my sources of 
information are not numerous I conclude, never 
theless, that the siege and my detention will not 
finish to-morrow. I have amusement for some 
days still in the book you gave me, but I would 
like to have another." 

Here follows a new request for mathematical 
works. But these will not suffice to fill up the 
leisure that may yet be prolonged several weeks. 
"If you can get me the Theological Summa of 
St. Thomas/" he adds, "I shall be supplied for a 
long time." So in his prison he means to resume 
his habits of labor, and renew that assiduous in 
tercourse with St. Thomas which, in his life as an 
officer, even distant expeditions did not interrupt. 
The letter concludes with these words : 

* Mr. Charles Clerc is an elder brother, who has spent a great 
part of his life in England, and with whom our readers have 
not yet had the opportunity of becoming acquainted. We 
are happy to here offer him the homage of our respectful sym 
pathy. 



Prisoner and Victim for Love of Jesus. 459 

" Have you not answered me ? Has your reply 
to my last letter not been given me ? I know no 
thing about it. They talk of the cloister of con 
vents of nuns; this of Mazas is not to be dis 
dained. 

I beg you not to compromise yourself in any 
thing for me ; what I ask you for is of abundance 
and not of necessity. So do not go and get your 
self incarcerated for the sake of helping me ; that 
would serve nobody, and you are not as well situ 
ated as I am to take it patiently." 

Apiil 25 he writes again in a tone of affectionate 
reproach : "You might perhaps not leave me in 
sucli ignorance. You should not conspire with 
the whole system of prison cells to preserve silence 
around me. Since I know absolutely nothing of 
what is going on outside, it is impossible for me 
to know less ; and though one of your letters should 
not reach me, or should be mutilated, it would 
still inform me of as much as if you had written 
nothing in it. 

"For instance, I would like to know if our com 
panions of the Conciergerie have been released ; if 
other fathers have been arrested and their houses 
pillaged ; if our Preparatory School has opened 
somewhere ; if the little boys are still at the college. 
And I do not think I will be prevented from 
learning this. It is what interests me most. 

11 Perhaps also you may be able to learn if it is 
a determined thing that, contrary to the usage of 
the prison, we are to see nobody, and finally if 
they think of taking any steps against us." 



460 Alexis Clerc. 

Insisting upon his requests for books requests 
prompted by the rather long period that probably 
remains for him to spend in solitude he says : 
( f The Summa of St. Thomas is a book which 
you will have to borrow in ordinary times I could 
easily tell you where, but now I do not know. 
Every priest who is a little learned or studious cer 
tainly has it in his library. Every library that is 
not exclusively frivolous contains it likewise, and a 
librarian who is a little obliging would lend it to 
you for a poor prisoner. 

" I am in want of nothing, unless it be that, 
the prison regulations no longer allowing a chap 
lain, we have neither Mass nor sacraments. I am 
sure prisoners never desired them so much. 

" I pray to God, I study, I read, I write a little, 
and I find that time passes quickly even at Mazas. 

" There truly are such things as presentiments; I 
believe I never travelled on the Vincennes rail 
road without looking at this prison and saying to 
myself that perhaps I would be its inmate some 
day. "When the Prison de la Sante was building, 
I made a careful visit of it, and had the same idea 
constantly in my mind. But, not to exaggerate 
my presentiments, I should add that I imagined 
my incarceration would be brought about by the 
regular and official means of a certain Monsieur 
Bonjean, a magistrate of the old Parliaments, 
while the fact is that that same poor Monsieur 
Bonjean is less astonished to find himself in prison 
than to be there with the Jesuits. Fortune ! I 
may also say, Commune ! behold thy freaks." 



Prisoner and Victim for Love of Jesus. 461 

In truth the meeting was a singular one, and M. 
Bonjean had doubtless no more anticipated it than. 
Father Clerc. And at La Koquette how much 
cause that magistrate had to congratulate himself 
upon a proximity which permitted him to open 
his soul to the very Jesuit who, with good reason, 
was astonished at having him for a companion in 
captivity ! 

Father Clerc soon received the details he was 
anxious for regarding the fate of his confreres and 
of the Jesuit establishments ; and amidst so much 
bitterness he experienced some consolation in 
learning that the educational works which were 
particularly dear to him were being continued as 
completely as possible, in spite of the horrible 
struggle that was plunging Paris in fire and blood. 
The pupils of the School Sainte-Genevieve were re 
assembled at Athis, those of Yaugirard at Saint- 
Germ ain-en-Laye, and his brother Jules had a 
hand in the latter installation. Thanks to a species 
of salvage organized through his efforts, the fathers 
were able to remove from the College of YaugL 
rard, as from a vessel stranded on the coast, a por 
tion of the school properties they had the most 
need of at Saint-Germain, and which otherwise 
would have been the prey of the Commune. The 
two nephews of the prisoner of Mazas> Alexis and 
Henri Clerc, young pupils of Vaugirard, con 
tinued their studies at Saint-Germain, where they 
soon received the most touching tokens of their 
uncle s affection. 

"Well and good," he replies, after having re- 



462 Alexis Clerc. 

ceived this news (letter of April 23) ; " that is the 
way to write. ID two words you inform me of 
everything that most interests me. Now my igno 
rance of all that is transpiring is much less painful. 

" Take no more steps to see me, for I fear thise 
will draw something disagreeable upon you, and I 
have no hope of their being successful. This door 
will be opened by a hand other than yours, and if 
it does not open at all we shall know how to resign 
ourselves. 

"You will cheerfully accept the compliments 
which are paid you for me. I am happy and proud 
to suffer something for the name I bear. You 
are sufficiently aware that the blow did not gur- 
prise me, that I did not seek to avoid it, and that 
I desire to support it. 

" I do not hope for the deliverance of which you 
speak, and I do not know that we need apprehend 
anything from fear, anger, or their necessity of 
further committing themselves. The less I am 
master of myself, the more I am in the hands of 
God ; what he decrees will come to pass, and he 
will enable me to do what he wills that I should. 
Omnia possum in eo qui me confortat I can do all 
things in Him who strengthens me." 

Eight days later he at last received a visit from 
his brother. Jules did not come alone ; a cou 
rageous woman, who had already given proof of 
devotedness at the ambulance of Vaugirard, having 
obtained a permit to see the prisoner through the 
grates of Mazas, had brought Mr. Jules Clerc as 
an escort. 



Prisoner and Victim for Love of Jesus. 463 

The conversation was as gay as it could have 
been in the parlor of Vaugirard or of the School 
Sainte-G-enevieve. It was marked by an incident 
which, to borrow the expression of Father do 
Ponlevoy, did not lack a chivalric stamp. The in 
terview having been procured, by grace of nepotism, 
through the credit of a high dignitary of the Com 
mune, Father Clerc was told that that powerful 
personage would deign to come himself to Mazas 
to propose to Father Clerc to include him in a 
negotiation of exchange of prisoners. "But at 
the mere idea of such a treaty the former naval 
officer, who was a judge of honor, sprang from his 
chair. Be calm, we beg you/ the visitors said to 
him, and especially if the offer is made you do 
not compromise yourself; some misfortune will 
befall you if you do. What misfortune ? What 
have I to fear ? We cannot be worse off than at 
the Conciergerie and at Mazas. I beg your par 
don, father, I beg your pardon. . . . You mis 
take ; worse can befall you. Ah ! he cried with 
a start, * then we should be shot ! What good 
fortune ! . . . Straight to Paradise ! And he 
looked radiant, with his arms extended and his 
eyes raised to heaven." 

He was delighted to learn that the establishments 
of the Rue Lhomond and the Rue Vangirard were 
successfully reorganized at Athis and Saint-Ger 
main, and that the Commune had released, among 
others, two of his confreres who were absolutely 
necessary for the special courses which, he thought, 
could very well do without him for sometime yet. 



464 Alexis Clerc. 

The next day he wrote to his brother : " I am 
truly joyful since yesterday. The news you brought 
me was so good, and the evil might be much 
greater. The upshot of the matter is our works 
are impeded, but we shall not be altogether pre 
vented from continuing them. Yet what gives 
me the most pleasure is to see you rendering ser 
vice to M. Gravoueille,* and you understand that, 
while perfectly appreciating the service itself, 
what especially touches me is the excellence of the 
good work you thus do. Our Lord always rewards 
what is done for him ; he is generous enough not 
to allow himself to be exceeded in generosity by 
any one. I am proud of you. 

"I told you that they let us have the news 
papers, f I have read three, have written I don t 
know how many letters, and have not opened a 
mathematical book to-day. What dissipation ! " 

This letter bears the date of May 5. On the 
6th, before sending it, he adds these lines, which 
prove how little he cherished illusions : " They are 
filling up their prison. I believe the hour of their 
most evil counsels will be the hour of their greatest 
reverses." 

He did not fail to discharge his debt of gratitude 
towards the devoted woman who had surmounted 
so many obstacles in order to visit him and afford 
him the pleasue of his brother s visit. 

*The Rev. Father Gravoueille, rector of the College of 
Vaugirard. 

f This relaxation of the prison discipline was probably due 
to the same influence which procured for Father Clerc the 
visit of his brother and the person mentioned in connection 
with it. 



Prisoner and Victim for Love of Jesus. 465 

" It is not enough," he wrote to her, " to have 
thanked you once ; I owe you too much, and I 
wish to thank you again. 

<* To do so I will tell you of the joy your unex 
pected visit gave me. I supposed you were in the 
country, and meanwhile you returned to Paris. 
Thrusting yourself into the jaws of the wolf, you 
forced the gates of this impenetrable prison. Be 
very sure that I can form some estimate of all it 
must have cost you, of all the weariness and fatigue 
of such efforts, and of the multiplied journeys to 
Versailles, to Paris, and to Saint-Germain. But 
charity, says St. Paul, is kind, seeketh not her 
own, hopeth all things, and endureth all things. 
Consequently it overcomes all obstacles. It was 
you, then, who were to break down this barrier 
that stood firm in spite of all my brother s efforts 
for a month for I had been in prison just one 
month when I had the pleasure of seeing you. 
This was right: charity, which is better, should 
be mightier than fraternal friendship. What an 
attention on your part, and what trouble you took 
to hunt up my brother and wait foi him that you 
might bring him to me. 

(( Remark how God commences in this world to 
justify his providence, and ask yourself if the hor 
rors of these days have not a reason for being, in 
that they call forth such amiable and delicate de- 
votedness. 

1 I must tell you once again what a consolation 
it was, after Ibis month of absolute separation, and 
of hearing incessantly night and day the thunder 



466 Alexis Clerc. 

of cannon what a consolation it was to see beloved 
friends and to learn news of such interest. More 
over, all the news you brought me was good. The 
blows that have struck us have only partially in 
jured us; our colleges are hardly incommoded by 
them ; while a few of us, suffering for the name of 
Jesus, will render the labors of the rest more effica 
cious and more fruitful. 

" So I have brought back into my cell a very 
joyous heart. The mortification of the solitary 
life is but a little thing to a man accustomed to 
silence and study, and whose life has been mostly 
passed in his religious cell. But ignorance regard 
ing such great interests is very painful, and all pos 
sible resignation to the will of God neither can 
nor ought to make us indifferent to them. 

" What, then, shall I do to show you some grati 
tude ? I will continue my office towards you, to 
excite you to fidelity to your resolutions, and espe 
cially to bring you ever nearer to our Lord, not 
only spiritually by prayer and the practice of all 
your duties, as well as by your works of charity, 
but to draw you closer to him corporally by the 
Holy Communion. Here there is no confession, 
no Mass even on Sundays. Wo are lodged, fed ; 
that is enough for animals. Profit by the sacra 
ments which are offered you. 

" Can you explain to me why we who are capa 
ble, and so readily capable, of generous and affec 
tionate sentiments, are so cold towards our Lord ? 
Has he not the most generous, the most delicate, 
and the tenderest of hearts ? There is nothing of 



Prisoner and Victim for Love of Jesus. 467 

good in any man which is not far more excellent in 
him. We must love him with all our strength." 

At the same time he writes to Father Chauveau, 
who he knows now is at liberty and engaged in 
procuring for his brothers still in confinement the 
comforts compatible with the prison regulations : 
" I have nothing to suffer except from ignorance 
of what is going on. I have books, and between 
prayer, reading, and study, the time passes almost 
as quickly as elsewhere ; as for linen and aliment, 
chanty does not permit us to want. Let nobody 
be the least uneasy about me. 

"I have heard something said of proposals of 
exchange. Absit! I will none of it. I bear the 
situation pretty patiently, and shall as long as 
need be. There are so many reasons for refusing 
an exchange. Oh! no. 

" Bid the charitable hand that feeds us to be 
less prodigal of its benefits to me. It may be flat 
tering to it, but is rather shameful to me : I am 
growing fat ! Will I be able to leave my cell when 
the hour of deliverance shall come ? My cell, 
horrors ! is it a coop ? Truly, I do not require so 
many things." 

While it was still easy for him to correspond 
with persons outside the prison, he addressed two 
letters, foreseeing doubtless that they would be 
the last, to his two young nephews, Alexis and 
Henri, members of the little colony which had plant 
ed its tent at Saint Germain-en-Laye while await 
ing the restoration of the College of Vaugirard. 
After the example of the Divine Master, having 



4-68 Alexis Clerc. 

loved his own, he loved them unto the end (John 
xiii. 1). His affection for them all, of which we 
have discovered so many proofs in his letters to his 
brother, never expressed itself in terms more ear 
nest and tender. To little Henri, a child of ten 
years of age, he writes : 

" MY I)EAR LITTLE HENEI : I learn from your 
papa that you are very good and very attentive, 
therefore he is pleased with you, and your dear 
mamma is, and all of us, including your masters. 
Do not be discouraged because you are not at the 
head of your class ; you are not the first boy in the 
class, but you are not the biggest boy either. 

You cannot be learned before having studied ; 
and since you do study, you will become learned. 
Have confidence; you know very well that farmers 
sow in October to reap in August. 

"Everything is going on first rate; do not be 
sad and discontented when we are all satisfied. 

"To love our Lord dearly, to love the Blessed 
Virgin dearly, to perform your tasks faithfully, 
and to behave yourself well, is all you need. With 
that one should progress proudly and happily. 

" With time you will grow in stature, in know 
ledge, in wisdom, and in graces. This is what is 
wished you by your affectionate uncle in our 
Lord, AL. CLEKC, S.J." 

" MAZAS, May 8, 1871." 

The same day he wrote to little Henri s elder 
brother, who in baptism had received the name of 
his uncle : 



Prisoner and Victim for Love of Jesus. 469 

" MAZAS, Monday, May 8, 1871. 

" MY DEAE HEPHEW ALEXIS : Your father has 
brought me news of yon, and, as it is good, I desire 
to congratulate you ; I am obliged to do it in writ 
ing from my prison. He has told me of your suc 
cess in your class, of your meriting the cross twice 
and also the ribbon, and of your docility being 
satisfactory to your masters. That is what makes 
a good scholar ! 

" As a good scholar fulfils all his duties well, he 
satisfies his masters and himself; he has no re 
proaches to dread, therefore he is confident ; he 
has no fault to conceal, therefore he is frank ; he 
has only compliments to receive, therefore he is 
agreeable ; and he is disposed to like everybody, as 
everybody is disposod to like him. 

" It should not be enough for you to be a good 
scholar and an amiable child ; you must also be a 
holy child. God should have the place HI your 
heart which belongs to him that is, the first place. 
This is why what rejoiced me most was to learn 
that you show yourself as pious as you are good and 
industrious, and that you are first in Catechism 
class. You are thinking seriously of your First 
Communion, and are preparing for it with, all the 
attention you are capable of. Your two sisters 
have given you a good example ; you mean to fol 
low it, and to leave a similar one to little Henri ; 
that is the way piety increases in families and 
strengthens the bonds which unite them. 

"However, you must in this, as well as in your 
studies and your conduct, moderate too great an, 



Alexis Clerc. 

eagerness to do well and to succeed. What a joy 
it is for us, my dear Alexis, especially for your 
kind father and your tender mother, to have only 
this danger to dread for you ! Still, it is to be 
dreaded. 

"It is, perhaps, hy forming your heart to a piety 
earnest but gentle, ambitious of pleasing God but 
asking of him the means of doing so, jealous of 
loving our Lord a great deal but asking him to 
give you that love, that you will learn to expect 
more (in other things, too) of God than of yourself, 
and, as an instance, to join in your labor and your 
good conduct ardor to moderation. It is not, you 
understand perfectly, my dear child, that your zeal 
should be diminished to regulate it and to direct 
it prudently, is to strengthen and not to weaken it. 

" I am confident, therefore, that you are going 
to make an excellent First Communion, and that 
our Lord, giving himself to you entirely, more gener 
rous to you than you will have been to him, will 
load you with blessings, and especially will fill your 
heart with an ineffaceable love for him ; I shall 
not fail to pray that you may worthily perform that 
great act, and that you may draw from it abundant 
graces. 

"Farewell, my dear child ! Your uncle, a pri 
soner for the name of Jesus, who affectionately em 
braces you in Jesus Heart. AL, CLERC, S.J." 

The very day Father Clerc assumed that beauti 
ful title, " Prisoner for the Name of Jesus," to the 
end that it might be still better justified in the 
eyes of all, the Commune ordered to be promulgat- 



Prisoner aud Victim for Love of Jesus. 471 

ed at Mazas a new decree, in virtue of which the 
parlor was suppressed for the priests and main 
tained only for the laics. Citizen G-arreau had 
just been appointed director of Mazas. Tins new 
rule was, it was aptly said, " the largess of his joy 
ous accession." * 

But there is a Visitor whom the Commune will 
not keep back ; it is he who said to his apostles : 
I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. 
And again : If any one love me . . . my Fa 
ther will love him, and we will come to him and will 
make oar abode ivith him (John xiv. 18, 23). 
Everything is being prepared for this august and, 
beyond all others, consoling visit, and we are now 
approaching the scene which to the eyes of faith 
is the most interesting in this revived drama of the 
catacombs that is to find its catastrophe in martyr 
dom. Let us leave the narration to the author of 
the "Acts," who was ignorant of nothing that then 
transpired, and whose heart would have guessed, 
if need had been, everything that was accomplished 
by a charity capable of braving all perils and sur 
mounting all obstacles : 

" May 15th. In the midst of the month conse 
crated to Mary there dawns at last a beautiful day, 
a day of grace and joy, and the harbinger of another, 
henceforward near, of sacrifice and glory. The 
captives of Mazas did notecase repeating to heaven 
and earth : Veni, Domine Jesu I Ah ! come, Lord 
Jesus. Etiam venio cito ! Yes/ was the reply, 

* "Acts of the Captivity," etc., p. 118. 



47 2 Alexis Clerc. 

behold I come. Suddenly the gates burst open; 
the prisoners did not go forth, but Jesus entered. 

" However, in the morning of that blessed day 
the Desired had not yet appeared. 

f< Father Clerc wrote with his ordinary cheerful 
ness : t Your little message affords me much con 
solation and joy ; I am very thankful for it, and I 
beg you to continue, as you know how to do, this 
kind assistance. You give me reason to hope for 
greater. Be it so ! God is so good to us ! 

" I continue to study mathematics and prepare 
my class ; and when one has performed his exer 
cises of piety the day has vanished. I catch a 
glimpse of a ray of light, and I hope for better 
times for our unfortunate country. For the pre 
sent I am ever quite content to be in prison, so 
have no uneasiness about me. May God bless you 
for your charity ! My compliments and affection 
ate wishes to all our friends in our Lord. 

" Oh ! how separation makes us feel where our 
heart has fixed its love ! 

" Father Olivaint, likewise warned, wrote to 
Father Lefebvre : * What a providence it is that 
you have been able to remain down there ! How 
manifest it is to me that the Lord has directed all ! 
I am at the forty-first day of my retreat. From 
to-day I shall meditate only on the Eucharist. 

" Meanwhile everything was ready, within as 
well as without, for Jesus entrance into the prison. 
First of all it had been necessary to inform the 
captives themselves of the ingenious and bold un 
dertaking. As every letter sent from or received 



Prisoner and Victim for Love of Jesus. 473 

at Mazas was opened and read, it had been con 
trived to slip notes in the dough of the rolls senfc 
to the prisoners before patting them in the oven. 
The tenor of these mysterious notes was as follows : 
Circumstances are very grave ; have courage ! 
To-morrow you will receive the supreme consola 
tion ; and at the foot : You will receive a vessel 
filled with milk, and at the bottom you will find 
what I announce to you. The warning was re 
ceived and understood, and the reply was sent from 
Mazas : We shall be very glad to have the little pot 
of cream. It was then thought that the delicate 
operation might be safely proceeded with. A 
priest s hand deposited four consecrated Hosts in 
an inner box completely lined with a corporal, and 
then enclosed in a second box with another little 
corporal and the silk bag with cord attached to 
suspend from the neck. The whole was placed in 
the hermetically-sealed false bottom of a pot quite 
filled with cream. There were only three of these 
pots namely, for Father Ohvaint, Father Ducou- 
dray, and Father Clerc ; this time those who 
planned the affair had not known how to manage 
it in the quarter of the prison where Father Oau- 
bert and Father de Bengy were confined. 

" Towards the middle of the day the little pots 
and the little boxes* expected and so earnestly de 
sired arrived at Mazas ; half-past twelve was the 
propitious hour when all the prisoners were in 
their cells. The employees were obliging and 

* These are the enigmatical exprersions which Father Oli- 
vaint made use of in a preceding letter. 



474 Alexis Clerc. 

eager, astonished themselves at finding their sad role 
mitigated : at the prison gate a generous fee was 
bestowed upon them, and the most gracious wel 
come invited them to enter the cells. Ah ! be 
hold our good messengers/ Father Clerc did not 
fail to exclaim on seeing them. 

"From that day our three privileged captives 
bore upon their breasts, as upon a living altar, the 
God of their heart and their portion for eternity. 
The holy undertaking being at last completed, each 
of them must immediately give some notification. 

"In the evening of the 15th of May Father Oli- 
vaint hastened to send this little message of ac 
knowledgment: < I did not expect anything more 
to-day. My surprise, and I may say my consolation, 
were only the greater. I thank you again ! a big, 
an enormous thank you ! 

" In my retreat I have been occupied for a long 
time with the Holy Ghost ; now 1 am going to 
meditate upon the Eucharist. 

" Tne Joy f the 15th of May could not be with- 
out a morrow. On the 16th there was at Mazas 
but one cry of gratitude. Father Clerc writes to 
one of his brothers : * 

" Mr DEAR EMILE : Supposing your almost 
anxious uneasiness about what W^LS sent to us this 
morning, I have done all I could to relieve you of 
it. I have written a letter on the subject to my 
brother, and I believe it has already been sent. At 
the same time I fear lest my brother may not be in 
Paris, and lest he may not fully understand the 
* Father Emile Chauveau. 



Prisoner and Victim for Love of Jesus. 475 

importance of the commission I gave him, as I 
wrote it in words of double meaniug. So at all 
events I will prepare this little message for you. 

"Everything reached us in perfect order and 
was arranged with admirable art and skill. I pre 
fer to leave it to your piety to picture my joy, 
rather than attempt to do so with my pen. But I 
think I may say with full assurance that I defy 
all that may now happen. There is no more pri 
son, there is no more solitude for me, and I am 
confident that if our Lord permits the wicked to 
satisfy all their hatred and to prevail for a few 
hours, he will prevail over them at the very mo 
ment of their triumph, and will glorify his name by 
the weakest and vilest instrument. 

" Let us bless God with all our strength, be 
cause his benefits to us are redoubled. Farewell. 
Pax et osculum in Christ o.* 

" ALEXIS CHRISTOPHE CLEEC, S.J.f 

" P.S. Bearing our Lord upon my heart, I 
was touched, while saying Vespers, with the prayer 
of the good Paschal Bay Ion. J Oh ! how differently 

* I wish you peace and embrace you in our Lord. 

) It is well known that the name Christopher signifies the 
Christ-bearer. 

$ It was, indeed, the vigil of the feast of St. Pascal Baylon, 
a religious of ihe Order of Bt. Francis, celebrated for his de 
votion to the Blessed Eucharist. Here is the prayer : " Deu*, 
quibeatum Paschalem, Confessorem tuum, minjica crga Cr- 
poris et Sanguinis tui sacra mysteria dilectione decorasti : 
concede prupitius, ut quam ille ex hoc divinoconvivioap-ritus 
percepit pinyuedinem, eamdem et nos percipere mereamifr" 
"Lord, who didst endow thy Messed confessor, Pasclial, 
with an admirable love towards the sacred mysteries of thy 
Body and Blood, vouchsafe to grant us the grace that our souls, 
like bis, may be strengthened and enlarged by that divine ban 
quet" ("Breviar. Roman.," May 17). 



4/6 Alexis Clerc. 

he would have appreciated and given thanks for 
the great favor our Lord has bestowed upon his 
unworthy servant. 

"But here, written on the same day and for the 
same purpose, is Father Clerc s last letter, and in 
very truth his Nunc dimittis : 

" Ah ! my God, how good thou art ! And how 
true it is that the mercy of thy Heart shall never 
fail! 

" And you what gratitude, what thanksgivings, 
do we not owe you ? After having a thousand and 
a thousand times repeated the expression of my 
imperishable gratitude, and after having offered 
you on a new claim the feeble services of a heart 
at least sincere and devoted, it remains to me to 
wish that the gift you make me may be always 
made to you, and especially in days of trial. 

" I had not dared to conceive the hope of such 
a blessing to possess our Lord, to have him for 
the companion of my captivity, to bear him upon 
my heart and to repose upon his, as he permitted 
his beloved John ! Yes, it is too much for me, 
and what never entered my thoughts. Yet it is a 
fact. But is it not true that all men and all the 
saints together would never have dared to conceive 
of the Holy Eucharist ? Oh ! how good, how 
compassionate, how kindly attentive is the G-od of 
the Eucharist ! 

" Does it not seem as though he still makes us 
this reproach : Hitherto you have not asked any 
thing in my name : ask, and you shall receive 9 I 
have him without having asked him ; I possess 



Prisoner and Victim for Love of Jesus. 477 

him and I shall nevermore abandon him, and my 
desire of possessing him, extinguished through 
lack of hope, is rekindled, and will but increase in 
proportion as the possession shall endure. 

" l Ah ! prison, dear prison, thou whose walls I 
kissed while saluting thee : Bona crux! What a 
treasure thou hast won me ! Thou art no longer a 
prison, thou art a chapel. Thou art no longer 
even a solitude, since I am no more alone among 
thy shadows, and my Lord and m v King, my Mas 
ter and my God, dwells with me. It is no longer 
only in thought that I approach him, it is no lon 
ger only by grace that he approaches me, but he is 
really and corporally come to find and console the 
poor prisoner. He wishes to keep him company ; 
he wishes it, and can he not do it, since he is om 
nipotent ? But what marvels it has cost him to 
accomplish his wish ! And you are a part of those 
marvels of the tenderness of the Heart of Jesus for 
his unworthy servant. 

" ( Oh 1 never end, my prison, that art worth to 
me the bearing of my Lord upon my heart, not as 
a sign, but as the reality of my union with him. 
During the first days I begged our Lord with great 
earnestness to call me to a more excellent testimo 
ny of his name. The worst days are not yet 
passed ; on the contrary, they are approaching, and 
they will be so bad that the goodness of God will 
be constrained to abridge them ; we are nearing 
them very fast. I had the hope that God would 
give me the strength to die well ; to-day my hope 
is become a true and steady confidence. It seems 



478 Alexis Clerc. 

to me I can do all things in Him who strengthens 
me and who will accompany me even unto death. 
Will he ask my death ? All I know is that if he 
does not ask it, I shall have a regret which only 
submission to his will can soften. 

" But if he does ask it, how large will be your 
share in that blessing of strength he will have lent 
me ! " 

What is there for us to add ? A priest, reading 
this letter from his pulpit to the faithful, compared 
it to the epistles of St. Ignatius of Antioch. Yes, 
certainly the resemblance is striking. It is because 
the same God dwelt in both and inspired them with 
the same fervor ; and if Clerc had had, like that 
illustrious martyr, to explain himself before the 
judges, he would have spoken the same language: 
" I am a priest of Jesus Christ, to whom I sacri 
fice daily, and now I desire to sacrifice myself by 
dying for his glory as he died for my love." 

The great succor our prisoners had received on 
May 15 was renewed eight days later in a truly 
providential manner, but a few hours before they 
were transferred from the prison of Mazas to that 
of La Roquette. I borrow this page also from the 
author of the " Acts": 

"Monday, the 22d, towards noon, two weak 
and courageous women, on foot and with a burden 
they shared between them, under a burning sky 
travel for an hour over the broad, desolate districts 
which are trodden only by the patrols of the Com 
mune. Where are they going ? To Mazas. And 
what do they carry ? The God of martyrs. This 



Prisoner and Victim for Love of Jesus. 479 

time all precautions bad been taken, tbe distribu 
tion was complete ; each of onr prisoners received 
four Hosts wrapped in a corporal as in a winding- 
sheet, du>y enclosed in a little box, with the silk 
bag furnished with a cord to be suspended around 
the neck. By coming at such an hour the Lord 
Jesus seemed to repeat to his servants his words of 
olden days : Iterum venio et accipiam vos ad 
meipsum " I come again, not to remain with you, 
but to take you to myself." 

Thus each already bore about him his Viaticum, 
and at the approach of the last combat it was in 
their power to offer to several of their companions 
in captivity the great charity of breaking with 
them the Bread of the Strong. 

That very day quite late in the evening they 
were crowded into carts and driven to La Roquette, 
the prison of the condemned. On their arrival 
nothing was ready to receive them ; they were 
kept a long while in a sort of waiting-room fur 
nished with wooden benches fixed against the 
walls. The Archbishop of Paris was there seated 
like the others on his bench between President 
Bonjean and M. Deguerry, cure of the Madeleine. 
The latter having addressed the prelate by his 
honorary title, a guard rudely calls out to him : 
" Citizens, there are no lords here." At the same 
moment one of the prisoners (a witness says it was 
Father Clerc) rises from his place, and, kneeling 
before monseigneur, kisses his hand and asks his 
blessing. Then, having noticed the feeble ap 
pearance of the unfortunate archbishop, he opens 



480 Alexis Clerc. 

a little parcel he has under his arm and offers him 
some provisions saved from Mazas. 

Finally they are conducted to their cells, where 
they find the entire furniture consists of only 
a bed, composed of a straw mattress and one 
blanket. Fathers Ducoudray and Clerc, again 
together, were put in the fourth section on the 
first story, not far from the archbishop and M. 
Deguerry. After the first night spent in his new 
prison, Father Clerc informed his brother of his 
change of domicile in a note significantly laconic, 
written beneath the eyes of the turnkeys and 
agents of the Commune : 

"Mr DEAR JULES : Yesterday, Monday, the 
22d, we were removed from our late residence, and 
we are now at La Roquette, probably for greater 
safety. Last night I saw the moon and the stars, 
and I am writing to you on the ledge of my win 
dow under the blue sky. I have neither table nor 
chair. The life of man can be greatly simplified. 

" We are ignorant of our new conditions of ex 
istence ; they seem not to include an isolation as 
complete as at Mazas. 

" GRAKDE KOQTJETTE, Fourth Section, No. 6." 

In reality there is no longer the isolation of the 
cellular system. From his window, which now opens 
about breast-high and gives free entrance to the 
air and sun, the prisoner perceives at first running 
round the building a broad enough road which serves 
as a place for walking and recreation. Beyond, his 
eyes encounter one of the two high walls between 
which runs a second road, where in two days he will 



Prisoner and Victim for Love of Jesus. 48 1 

meet his death. By an arrangement, which is the 
same throughout the prison, his cell, adjoining that 
of President Bonjean, is separated from it by only a 
thin partition, which likewise divides the common 
window. At a given signal the two prisoners can 
meet almost face to face, and there is nothing to 
prevent them from holding the most private conver 
sations a providential circumstance, as we shall see. 

When the weather permitted, the prisoners de 
scended twice a day for a promenade in the first 
road. They met there for the first time on Tues 
day, between eight and nine o clock, while the em 
ployees of the prison were doing the morning work 
in their poor cells. The outpourings of heart of 
those hours, each one of which might be their last, 
the happiness felt at meeting again after so long a 
separation, especially by those whom the bonds of 
religious brotherhood more closely united, may be 
better imagined than expressed. If the "Ecce 
quam bonum could not be sung in such a place, 
the sentiment to which it responds was not the less 
present in every heart. What unanimity in our 
beloved brothers generous acceptance of the great 
est of sacrifices, and in their ardent wishes for the 
unfortunate country of which they would not de 
spair ! There reigns a wonderful harmony in their 
words, piously collected by the author of the 
"Acts." I will repeat a few of them, taken either 
from their letters written at Mazas, or from those 
memorable conversations of La Roquette when 
their voices were heard for the last time. 

To the sound of the cannon that shook his cell 



482 Alexis Clerc. 

Father Olivaint wrote : " Those frightful cannon 
that thunder incessantly ! Oh ! how they worry 
me ; but how, also, they remind me to pray for our 
poor country ! If the giving of my miserable life 
would put an end to all the trouble, how quickly I 
would make the sacrifice ! " 

More composed, Father Caubert did not cease to 
pray for France and for Paris, and he had hope of 
a better future. "I have the conviction that it 
will not be long before all hearts will understand 
one another and unite in one same spirit of concord 
and charity." To a celebrated advocate who visited 
him in his prison, he said: "This is a very great 
trial for the country, and will save it." And as 
his visitor expressed his doubts of such a result, 
" For me, I have no doubt," Father Caubert added. 
" I am sure, I believe firmly, that France will come 
forth regenerated, more Christian, and consequent 
ly stronger than she has ever been before." 

Did not Father Clerc on his side write : " I dis 
tinguish a ray of light, and I have the hope of 
better times for our unhappy country " ? 

" Ibant gaudentes / . . . " were the first words 
that escaped the lips of Father Ducoudray at the 
moment of his arrest. He repeated them at the 
Conciergerie, and his joy in suffering for Jesus 
Christ never failed him. From his cell in Mazas 
he wrote : "From the first day of my arrival here 
I have kept myself ready for all sacrifices, for I 
have the sweet and strong confidence that if God 
makes of us, priests and religious, hostages and 
victims, it is truly in odium fidei, in odium nominis 



Prisoner and Victim for Love of Jesus. 483 

Christi Jesu in hatred of the faith, in hatred of 
the name of Jesus Christ." On the very day of his 
death he was heard at La Koquette to repeat: " If 
we are shot, it is certain to me that it will be in 
hatred of the faith. At that rate our purgatory 
will not be long." Father de Bengy expressed 
himself on the same subject : " God likes us to 
offer our gifts to him with a joyous heart, and as 
there is no gift more considerable than that of life, 
we must render it perfect by making it joyfully." 
Do we need to recall Father Olivaint s sentiments ? 
Already for many years he had sighed but for mar 
tyrdom. One day, hearing a sermon on the Japa 
nese martyrs, he was seized with unutterable trans 
ports. It seemed to him that his breast opened 
and that streams of blood flowed from it. Think 
ing then that perhaps he would be a martyr, he 
could no longer contain his joy. .We have heard 
Father Clerc : " I have earnestly begged our Lord 
to call me to a more excellent testimony of his 
name. ... It seems to me that I can do all 
things in Him who strengtheneth me, and who 
will accompany me even to death. Does he ask 
my death ? What I know is that if he does not ask 
it I shall have a regret which only submission to 
his will can soften." 

Now we are not astonished when an ocular wit 
ness tells us : "I saw all your fathers and I heard 
them talk ; they were calm and smiling in the 
evening of their life as though it was the dawn 
of a beautiful day. Father de Bengy had lost 
nothing of his sang-froid and gayety ; Father Cau- 



484 Alexis Clerc. 

bert of his pleasant and modest recollection ; Fa 
ther Clerc of his generous cheerfulness ; Father 
Ducoudray of his simple and dignified manliness : 
Father Olivaint of his quick energy and his radiant 
peace."* 

But we remember the Divine Guest they had re 
ceived, and who was invisible in their midst. Each 
one of them bore him upon his heart. That was 
the secret of their invincible strength and their un 
alterable serenity. 

It is known that they did not keep the heavenly 
gift for themselves alone. Those days were to all 
the hostages an admirable preparation for death; 
the priests confessed one another and heard tho 
confessions of the laymen ; laymen and priests, ex 
pecting to die from one moment to the next, held 
themselves in readiness to appear before God and 
to make the sacrifice of their lives generously. 

There was among all the rest one soul which in 
finite mercy confided more particularly to the zeal 
and charity of Father Clerc the soul of President 
Bonjean, his next-cell neighbor. By very good 
right the president did not pass for a friend of the 
Jesuits, and his ultra-parliamentary gallicanism had 
made some noise in the discussions of the Senate. 
But gallicanism, indeed ! What was it at such a 
moment ? Seen near to, the Jesuit appeared to 
him, before everything else, a priest carrying par 
don in his hands and having the power to pro 
nounce in the name of Jesus Christ the words of 
eternal life. At bottom those two souls were con 
stituted to understand one another, for they both 



Prisoner and Victim for Love of Jesus. 485 

possessed in the highest degree the religion of 
duty, and would admit of no compromise in mat 
ters of honor. If Father Cierc indignantly re 
jected the idea of an exchange of prisoners between 
Paris and Versailles, of which his friends wished 
to assure him the benefit, the president also had 
some of the same sort of magnanimous delicacy, 
and he was in reality a victim of his fidelity to 
what he regarded as one of the duties of his charge. 
Absent from Paris when the Commune seized the 
city without striking a blow, the courageous mag 
istrate immediately returned to his post without 
much hope of serving the cause , of order, and 
knowing perfectly well to what he exposed him 
self.* Arrested as early as the 21st of March while 
leaving his court-room, he had spent two whole 
months at Mazas, and, notwithstanding his ad 
vanced age (sixty-seven years), he bore the rigors of 
the prison discipline without showing any signs of 
weakness. There was question at one time of re 
leasing him on parole, which would have enabled 
him to go to Normandy for a visit of a few hours 
to Madame Bon jean. The only fear then of him 
self and Madame Bonjean was lest it might hap 
pen to him to involuntarily break the parole given, 
and the noble woman wrote : " I share to such a 
degree your apprehension lest some accident inde 
pendent of your will should oblige you to some in- 

*M. Devienne, first president of the Court of Appeal, being 
absent and sick. M. Boniean, the senior of the presidents of the 
chamber, became in reality the head of that imporcant body 
and the first representative of the entire judiciary of Pf ~~ 



.ans. 



486 Alexis Clerc. 

voluntary infraction of your promise given, that I 
hardly dare wish you to run such a terrible risk. 
But how few people understand / the nobility of 
such a scruple ! " 

As one virtue never exists alone, the president 
forgave his enemies with all his heart, and during 
the first days of his captivity he signed a writing 
wherein we read : " Do not seek to discover the 
names of those who detain me here contrary to all 
justice and all reason ; and especially never try 
to draw upon them any direct or indirect ven 
geance." 

Finally, we will quote this advice, which he ad 
dressed to his children four days before his death : 
" Let not the persecution I suffer, and the bloody 
death which from one moment to another may 
terminate my laborious life, be to you a cause of 
discouragement. Do not say : ( Of what advan 
tage to our father was that long fidelity to all his 
duties ? Why did he not do like so many others 
who, less austere, less rigid, understood how to 
shield themselves from danger and are now enjoy 
ing a happy old age ? Oh ! no, do not say thus, 
and give no heed to those who address such lan 
guage to you ; for my part, I who have never 
deceived any one, I who still less would deceive my 
children at this solemn moment, I declare to you 
that, miserable as may be the end which seems 
destined for me, I would at no price have acted 
otherwise than I have, and this is because the 
chief good, my dear children, is peace of con 
science ; and because that inestimable good can 



Prisoner and Victim for Love of Jesus. 487 

exist only for him who is able to say : / have done 
my duty" 

He did it to the end, not only as an upright 
magistrate and a good citizen, but also as a Chris 
tian faithful to his baptismal engagements. So 
much nobility of character could not but inspire 
Father Clerc with a lively sympathy, and no doubt 
he knew how to make himself understood by the 
president when he had to treat with him of the 
greatest and most sacred of all duties. Their con 
versations, commenced at the common window, 
were prolonged during the time of promenade, and 
the other prisoners respected an intimacy the na 
ture of which they easily enough conjectured. Be 
sides, M. Bonjean practised no concealment, and 
we refer to his own. testimony for our information. 
During the recreation of the day (May 23), which 
was usually taken in the first road, the archbishop, 
fatigued by long walking, as there was no place to 
sit, leaned against the baluster of the little stair 
case leading to the corridor of the first story. One 
of his vicars-general and M. Bonjean approached 
him ; the latter, M. Bonjean, looked radiant. " Eh 
bien ! monseigneur," he said to the prelate, "who 
would ever have thought that I, the gallican, 
would be converted by a Jesuit ?" * 

Father Clerc had just made his last conquest, 
had just harvested the last joy of his sacerdotal zeal. 

The sun of the 24th of May rose in splendor over 
the city, which all night long had been illuminated 

* " The Acts," p, 170. 



488 Alexis Clerc. 

by the flames of great conflagrations. Paris was 
burning . . . ; its palaces and monuments, satu 
rated with petroleum by the hands of the insur 
gents, taught us what civilization without God is 
capable of. In proportion as the regular army 
gained ground, as the iron circle was narrowed 
around the Commune at bay, the struggle, growing 
bloodier and more violent, was concentrated in the 
arrondissements near La Eoquette. Two steps from 
the prison, on the heights of Pere Lachaise, batteries 
of heavy artillery thundered and vomited inces 
santly over all the districts of that section a rain 
of iron and fire. Father Clerc must have remem 
bered his own words : The hour of their most evil 
counsels will ~be that of their greatest reverses. From, 
the earliest dawn of that day, lamentable for our 
unfortunate country, but so glorious to him, he 
prepared himself for the combat. Did he not pos 
sess in his prison Him who is the Strength of mar 
tyrs f He fed himself with his sacred flesh, and, 
doubtless careful to husband the treasure of the 
sacred species, he was able not only to prolong his 
thanksgiving, but to" continue his adoration the 
whole day. 

That same morning Father Olivaint carried the 
Blessed Eucharist to the Archbishop of Paris, and 
the cure of the Madeleine received it from the hand 
of Father de Bengy. The young ecclesiastic, who 
had Father Ducoudray for his neighbor, and who sur 
vived him, knew positively that he also bore upon his 
breast the Blessed Sacrament, and communicated 
himself in his cell. The two customary recreations 



Prisoner and Victim for Love of Jesus. 489 

took place just as the day before ; they were grave 
without the least doubt, but the heart still found 
cause to dilate while breathing in that reunion of 
brothers the aroma of charity. M. Amodru and 
M. Lamazou, of the clergy of Paris, have described 
the generous and indulgent sentiments which ani 
mated the archbishop and the cure of the Made 
leine, who as yet did not anticipate so tragic an 
issue, incapable as they were of believing in so 
much hatred. No word has come to us gathered 
in that last hour from the lips of Father Clerc ; 
we only know that his frequent tete-dietes with 
President Bon jean were noticed, as well as the truly 
filial respect he showed the archbishop on every 
occasion. Henceforth las history blends with that 
Ox e the five hostages who suffered death with him, 
and it is for the author of the " Acts " to relate to 
us how that day was finished by the bloody immo 
lation wherein our generous combatant so joyfully 
gained the palm of martyrdom : 

"The Commune, intrenched then in the may 
oralty of the eleventh arrondissement, had no more 
strength but for crime; alas ! it still had too much 
for that. It orders as urgent the execution in a 
body of all the hostages of La Roquctte. At six 
o clock in the evening over sixty prisoners are to be 
shot by way of reprisal. The keeper of the prison 
finds means to start difficulties regarding the mut 
ter rather than the form of this extreme measure 
of desperate men who have nothing more to lose. 
They parley, and, after some going and coming be 
tween La Roquette and the mayoralty of the elev- 



49 Alexis Clerc. 

enth arrondissement, the Commune consents only to 
decimate the sixty on the express condition of itself 
selecting its victims of preference. At all hazards 
it will have priests -those men who have been a 
nuisance in the world for eighteen hundred years ; 
and, through a singular association, the name of 
President Bon jean is likewise on the list. Nearly 
two hours are spent in these dread negotiations. 

" It was then about eight o clock in the evening. 
All the prisoners were in their cells and the only 
conversations were with Heaven. Suddenly a con 
fused noise is heard in the distance, growing 
more and more distinct ; voices of men and boys, 
outcries, and laughter still more ferocious, mingle 
with the din of arms. It was the approach of the 
doers of great deeds : for six victims not less than 
fifty executioners, Avengers of the Eepublic and 
Garibaldians, soldiers of all arms and National 
Guards of all costumes, ,.and those terrible boys 
known as the gamins of Paris. At their head 
marched a blond man with a moustache like a 
brush. Citizens/ he said, addressing his band, 
you know how many of us are missing six. 
Shoot six of them ! The detachment penetrates 
that corridor of the first story, fourth division, 
where our dear captives are, passes along its whole 
length, and ranges itself at the opposite extremity 
at the head of the little winding staircase which 
leads to the inner road ; on the passage each pris 
oner had in advance received through his open 
grating an insult and a sentence of death. 

"Then a personage performing the part of her- 



Prisoner and Victim for Love of Jesus. 491 

aid in a loud voice summons the prisoners to bold 
themselves ready and to each respond as his name 
is called. This said, the fatal list in his hand, he 
immediately announces with the same qualifying 
title for all, and following the numerical order of 
the cells, the names of the six condemned by the 
Commune. Accordingly as his name is pronounced 
a door opens and a victim gives himself up. M. 
Bonjean, M. Degnerry, M. Clerc, M. Ducoudray, 
M. Allard, and M. Darboy are successively called. 

" The Abbo G-ard, the ordinary witness of Fa 
ther Ducoudray in his cell, here adds a detail I 
am anxious to preserve : I was in bed Wednes 
day evening when they came to make the call. 
"When Father Ducoudray was named he must have 
been at prayer and did not hear; he remained quiet 
for at least half a minute, and I had to warn him. 
Then I heard him throw himself upon his lenses, 
and doubtless he consumed the sacred species he 
still bore upon his hear*-. 1 asked him to leave 
me a particle, but he replied: "No, no," whence 
I understood that all was consumed. 

"Now all the summoned arc present. The 
archbishop and his companions, preceded and fol 
lowed by the frightful escort, pass and descend 
one by one the narrow and dark staircase, and at 
the foot find themselves in that same road where 
but just now they were taking their recreation. 

"Behold them, then, finally at the mercy of 
savage impiety and a more than brutal insolence. 
One of the officers of that ignoble band even had 
to interfere, and, compassionate after his fashion, 



49 2 Alexis Clerc. 

f Comrades, he cried, we have something better 
to do than to abuse them ; we have to shoot them. 
This is the order of the Commune. 

" So great was the irregularity and confusion of 
those days that the place of execution Lad not even 
been fixed. Any place was good enough for shed 
ding blood. Therefore they were on the point of 
doing their work there in that Very place. But it 
was suggested that it was. very near the prison, 
under the windows even of the prisoners ; there 
would be too many witnesses of the crime. It 
was true; from all those windows, on all the 
stories, the eye looks into the first road, and the 
prisoners left in their cells would from above assist 
at that death scene, would hear all, see all. It was 
decided to pass into the second road, where there 
would be a screen of two high walls. They start ; 
a corporal heads the procession ; behind him walk 
those who are to die, grouped thus : Monseigneur 
the Archbishop of Paris gives his arm to M. 
Bonjean ; Father Ducoudray and Father Clerc 
accompany and support on each side the venerable 
cure of the Madeleine, burdened with his eighty 
years ; and last comes the Abbe Allard ; then 
around and behind the armed men and boys in a 
sort of crowd. As this line began to move one 
of the prisoners at a window of the first story 
shook his handkerchief in sign of farewell; Father 
Ducoudray turned and saluted him with a gesture. 
He was then seen to open his cassock and lay his 
hand upon his breast, doubtless to indicate that 
they were going to be shot. 



Prisoner and Victim for Love of Jesus. 493 

" At the extremity of the first road there was a 
necessary halt ; the gate leading into the second 
had to be forced. From that point the victims 
disappeared, and the only witnesses of the rest of 
the tragedy were those who will not come forward 
to testify : the executioners themselves. All that 
is known is that they had still to walk the whole 
length of the second road, in a contrary direction 
to their course on the first, as far as the southeast 
angle. It is also related that the generous Father 
Alexis Clerc, who had so earnestly desired to ren 
der to the name of Jesus the most excellent testi 
mony, that of blood, opened his cassock and pre 
sented his heart to welcome death. And, finally, 
it is inferred from the deep marks of the stray balls 
that the victims were ranged in a line at the foot 
of the high outer wall. 

"Meanwhile, what anxious expectation in the 
cells of the prison ! On their knees the inmates 
prayed, listened, scarcely breathing. They heard 
a round of musketry, then some detached shots, 
and cries of Vive la Commune ! It was over ; 
there were no longer victims, but martyrs ! 

"Towards midnight there was a great noise 
around the prisoners. Was it, another hostile visi 
tation ? Soon the gratings at the extremities of 
the corridor and the gates of all the avenues were 
closed with a crash, and these words, pronounced 
in a tone of authority, were distinguishable : If 
they come back I forbid their admittance ! It was 
merely a putting off for a time. 



494 Alexis Clerc. 

" A little later there was a dull rumbling along 
the second road ; they were removing the six bleed 
ing corpses. The bodies, thrown rather than laid 
in a. small hand-cart, arrived at the Cemetery of 
Pere Lachaise about three o clock in the morniug ; 
and there, without coffins, without any ceremony, 
they were hurried pell-mell into the common grave 
at the end of a long trench opened in the south 
east corner of the cemetery, close against the wall 
of enclosure." 

When the hideous Commune was crushed and 
our troops occupied the Cemetery of Pere Lachaise, 
haste was made to find the bodies of the victims ; 
they were discovered beneath about three feet of 
earth soaked by the recent rains, were deflled with 
bloody mud and greatly disfigured, but still per 
fectly recognizable. After they all were placed in 
coffins, the cemetery chapel temporarily received 
M. Bonjean and M. Allard, and while a guard of 
honor accompanied his grace the archbishop and 
M Deguerry as far as the archiepiscopal palace, 
Fathers Ducoudray and Clerc, likewise escorted by 
soldiers, were borne to our residence in the Rue de 
Series and deposited in the church, in the chapel 
dedicated to the Japanese Martyrs. There they 
were soon rejoined by Fathers Olivaint, Caubert, 
and De Bengy, massacred on Friday, May 26, toge 
ther with forty other hostages priests and soldiers 
in the court of the Cite Vincennes, Eue Haxo. 

I will not describe the funeral, celebrated on 
"Wednesday, May 31, amid an emotion easy to be 
imagined; the allocution addressed to the vast 



Prisoner and Victim for Love of Jesus. 495 

assembly by the venerable M. Ham on, cure of St. 
Sulpice, from whose trembling ]ips escaped the 
word Martyrs ; and, finally, the eloquent and 
touching oration pronounced at J:he Cemetery of 
Moiit Parnasse by Count Eugene de Gerniiny in 
the name of all the pupils of Fathers Olivaint and 
Ducoudray. This should be sought in the " Acts," 
if the reader has not already perused them, and no 
line of it should be passed over. 

The bodies of our dear victims repose to-day in 
the Chapel of the Martyrs, beneath the pavement 
of the sanctuary, and under the altar steps, a sen 
timent easy of explanation having been unwilling 
to permit them to be left any longer in our ordi 
nary place of sepulture without any distinguishing 
mark. Now, at least, the faithful may cover their 
tombs with garlands of immortelles and fresh 
flowers, to say nothing of our own advantage in 
having our house filled, by the near presence of 
their precious remains, with the sweet fragrance of 
sacrifice. 

Five broad slabs of marble, ornamented with in 
scriptions in the style of the Catacombs, indicate 
the spot occupied by each. Upon one of the five, 
at the extreme right (Epistle side), we read : 

HIC IACET IN PACE p 

ALEXIV3 CLERC 

DOMO PARISIIS 

PKESBYT2R SOCLETATIS JESV 

NATVS ANNOS LI MENSES V DIE3 XEII 

LIBELS FVSO SANGVINE FIDEM S1GNAVIT 

IX KAL. IVN. -A.D. MDOCCLXXI 



496 Alexis Clerc. 

Which, translated, is : 

HERE RESTS IN THE PEACE OF CHRIST 

ALEXIS CLERC, 

PARISIAN BY BIRTH, 

PRIEST OP THE SOCIETY OF JESUS, 

AGED LI. YEARS V. MONTHS XIII. DAYS. 

GLADLY HE SIGNED THE FAITH WITH HIS BLOOD 

THE 24TH OF MAY, OF THE YEAR OF OUR LORD MDCCCLXXL 

Verily, the author of this inscription was rightly 
inspired, and he wonderfully discerned Father 
Clerc s distinctive characteristic.* Libens, gladly 
it is, indeed, a word well chosen ! See you not 
our generous martyr on his way to death, opening 
his vestment to welcome the balls to his heart, and 
overjoyed to render to Jesus Christ, as he had so 
earnestly desired, the most excellent testimony ? 

His beautiful death has been described ere this, 
and has excited universal admiration ; henceforth, 
thank God ! it will be known that it was the crown 
of a life not less beautiful, a life hidden in God 
with Jesus Christ. Did not one of his friends pre 
dict : " Clerc will die a magnificent death " ? All 
those who observed him a little closely might have 
suspected something of the inner realities of his 
life ; but none had that intimate acquaintance 
with him which we have acquired in following him 
step by step for a period of about thirty years. 
From the time of his conversion to a sincere Ca 
tholic life he walked ever by the straightest path, 
and the obstacles he surmounted were not small. 

* The five inscriptions are the work of Father Victor de 
Buck, the eminent Bollandisc. . 



Prisoner and Victim for Love of Jesus. 497 

What a victory was that of his vocation 1 Opposed 
to the utmost by his own father, he sustained the 
rude assault without show or noise, hut with what 
generosity and perseverance ! We have torn aside 
the veil of his religious life: we see perpetual sacri 
fice. Everywhere we are conscious of the man of 
a great heart and a great faith who goes boldly 
ahead with all sails set. Whither will he not 
go when it is the Holy Spirit that fills the canvas ? 

I seem to hear issuing from his tomb these worda 
by which he exhorts us in our turn to fight the 
good fight : May God give you all a heart to wor 
ship him, and to do his will with a great heart and 
a willing mind (2 Machab. i. 3). 

You, young men, whom he so tenderly loved in 
our Lord, you will sometimes meditate on the 
counsels he gave those of your age and on the ex 
ample he left to us all. Young, he struck on the 
rock of the passions, and his wanderings were pro 
bably greater than yours. But a superabundant 
expiation made a new man of him, and you have 
seen with what holy ardor he was devoured. What 
ever may have been the first steps of your life, there 
is still time for you to make a noble use of your 
strength ; nothing is lost with God s help ; and I 
say it to others besides you the laborers of the 
eleventh hour may receive the wages of the whole 
day, provided they redeem by their diligence the 
time they have foolishly squandered. 

Our narration is ended ; still, we have yet to add 
a word which finds its place naturally here and 
which the reader doubtless expects. 



498 Alexis Clerc. 

We said just now that public piety instinctively 
felt that those remains deposited in the Chapel of 
the Martyrs were themselves relics of martyrs. 
And ever since a spontaneous impulse has brought 
the faithful to that sanctuary of benediction. It is 
not as yet the exterior worship the Church forbids 
until she has authorized it, but it is interior and 
private veneration, the prayer of the heart which 
does not even always ascend to the lips ; and it 
seems as though Heaven justifies such confidence 
by extraordinary, we may say miraculous, graces. 

Not far from the chapel a hall open to the pious 
visitor offers to his regard the furniture of the five 
cells occupied by the hostages at Mazas ; the bed, 
the table, the chair, nothing is wanting ; there are 
also added certain articles of private use of each of 
them, such as the half-burned breviary of Father 
Olivaint and his instruments of penance. On a 
table apart may be seen some marble tablets, the 
inscriptions on which bear witness to the petitions 
addressed to the victims of La Roquette and the 
Eue Haxo, and the favors obtained. 

Besides these, there is in the last edition of the 
" Acts," by the Eev. Father de Ponlevoy, a very 
full account of several cures which must be attri 
buted to their intercession, since science is power 
less to explain them. Five of the most remarkable 
of these facts have been submitted to the regular 
canonical process before a commission appointed 
by the ordinary. The competent authority has 
been appealed to, and its decision is confidently 



Prisoner and Victim for Love of Jesus. 499 

awaited. To Rome alone it belongs to pronounce 
in the cause of the servants cf G-od. 

But without judging anything in advance, may 
we not already indulge the hope that a day will 
come when the Church will place upon her altars, 
with his four companions, Alexis Clerc, sailor, Je 
suit, and hostage of the Commune, put to death in 
hatred of the faith ? 

Then the glory of his sanctity will be reflected 
upon Catholic schools and upon the French navy. 
The navy which gave this valiant soldier to the 
Society of Jesus and to the Church, may with good 
right honor him as one of her most attractive mo 
dels and of her most beloved protectors. 



THE 



APPENDIX. 



FATHER CLERC S ACT OF CONSECRATION TO THE 
SACRED HEART OF JESUS. 



CONSECRATIO 

Sacratissimo Cordi D. N. J. G. 

DOMINE JESU CHRISTI, qui 
dixisti : "Discitc a me quia 
mitis sum et humilis corde," 
ut cor meum secuncium Cor 
tuum facere digneris ; ego 
Alexius Clerc, omnimodo in- 
digDissimus, me totum om- 
niaque mea ad Sacratissi- 
mum et amabile nimis Cor 
tuum devoveo, et consacro. 



A tua ergo immensa boni- 
tate et dementia, per Sanc- 
tissimae Cor Immaculatum 
Virginis Marise peto suppli- 
citer, ut hoc holocaustum in 
odorem suavitatis admittas, 
et ut largitus es ad hoc desi- 
derandum et offerendum, sic 
ctiam ad explendum per ip- 
sum Cor tuum, et cum ipso 



CONSECRATION 

To the Most Sacred Heart of 
0. L. J. C. 

LORD JESUS CHRIST, who 
hast said: "Learn of me, 
because I am meek and hum 
ble of heart," in order that 
thou mayest be pleased to 
make my heart like unto thy 
Heart, I, Alexis Clerc, in 
every way most unworthy, 
do devote and consecrate 
myself and all that is mine 
to thy most holy and more 
than lovable Heart. 

Therefore I humbly be 
seech thy infinite goodness 
and mercy, by the Immacu 
late Heart of the Most 
Blessed Virgin Mary, that 
thou wilt vouchsafe to admit 
this holocaust in an odor of 
sweetness, and what thou 
hast given me the grace to 
desire and offer, so also, by 



501 



5O2 Appendix. 

et in ipso gratiam uberem the merits of thy divine 
largiaris. Amen. Heart itself, with it and in 

it, thou wilt bestow on me 
a plentiful grace to fulfil 
Amen. 

Rev. Fr. Dorr, the Instructor of the Third Year,has heard 
and approved my resolution, and I have pronounced this 
Act of Consecration in his hands, November 25, 1869 ; for 
which I rejoice in the Lord, giving thanks a thousand times 
to the goodness of God and to the tenderness of the Sacred 
Heart of our Lord Jesus Christ. 



NOTE. The military chaplains and other priests who 
passed all their time in the ambulances during the siege or 
Paris, allowed their beards to grow. The portrait of Father 
Clerc placed at the beginning of this translation is a good 
likeness, and represents him precisely as he appeared in the 
ambulance of Vaugirard during the terrible winter of 
1870-71. 



TRANSLATIONS 



BY 



M. E. O. 33., 

TRANSLATOR OF "ALEXIS CLERC." 



UNION WITH OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST IN 

HIS PRINCIPAL MYSTERIES. 

From the French of Fr. John Baptist Saint-Jure, S. J. 

One vol. 16mo, cloth, red edges $1 25 

EDMONDO: A SKETCH OF ROMAN MANNERS 

AND CUSTOMS. 
From the Italian of Fr. Antonio Bresciani, S. J. 

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MADDALENA, THE ORPHAN OF THE VIA 
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Either of the above books will be sent by mail, postage 
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Address 

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Daniel, Charles 



Alexis Clerc 



DATE 



ISSUED TO 



35993